Tag Archives: Field-photo

Field-photo of the day: the Mossi wood carver Raogo Sawadogo

The Mossi wood carver Roago Sawadogo, photographed in Sini in 1984. Published in Roy (C. D.) & Wheelock (T. G.B.), "Land of the Flying Masks. Art and Culture in Burkina Faso. The Thomas G.B. Wheelock Collection", Munich, 2007: p. 41, fig. 10. Image courtesy of Thomas Wheelock.

The Mossi wood carver Roago Sawadogo, photographed in Sini in 1984. Image courtesy of Thomas G.B. Wheelock.

This must be one of my favorite photos of a traditional African sculptor at work. Casually supporting the unfinished block of wood by holding one of the graciously curving horns, Raogo is about to strike his sharp iron adze. The determination and confidence that radiates from his face tell about his mastery of his tools and skills as a sculptor.

This photo was published in Thomas Wheelock’s book on his private collection, Land of the Flying Masks. Art and Culture in Burkina Faso (Munich, 2007: p. 41, fig. 10) – a must read for anyone interested in the art of the country. In a paragraph about “artists” Wheelock for example reveals the following interesting bit of information:

My experience in the art market in Burkina Faso has been that the deeper the scars are carved, and the higher the relief, the more likely it is that the mask was carved for an African patron and not for the tourist trade. Deeper scars are the product of greater time and care committed to the carving.

Something to remember !

Field-photo of the day: a Nigerian farmer with an interesting moustache

Nigerian farmer, photographed by Fagg in 1960. Published in: Fagg (B.), “Nok terracottas”, Lagos, 1977: p. 27, fig. 21.

Nigerian farmer, photographed by Fagg in 1960. Published in: Fagg (B.), “Nok terracottas”, Lagos, 1977: p. 27, fig. 21.

I recently came across the above field-photo of a Nigerian farmer taken by the British archeologist Bernard Fagg in 1960. His incentive to photograph this man is rather interesting. Fagg must immediately noticed that the farmer’s moustache, represented by two small projecting tufts at the edges of the upper lip, in fact is a typical feature of many male terracotta “Nok” heads he had previously discovered in the region – see an example below.

The Nok culture, which blossomed from 900 B.C. to A.D. 200, is sub-Sarahan Africa’s earliest known sculptural tradition. Unfortunately, little is understood about how this civilization ended. Bernard Fagg wrestled his whole career with two important questions: Where did the Nok culture come from ? And where did it go? Spotting this farmer’s moustache must have certainly gave him hope in his wish to establish a stylistic continuum between Nok and the later Nigerian civilizations.

Nok head (Nigeria). Height: 15,5 cm. Ex Collection Musée Barbier-Mueller. Image courtesy of the Musée du quai Branly (73.1996.1.1).

Nok head (Nigeria). Height: 15,5 cm. Ex Collection Musée Barbier-Mueller. Image courtesy of the Musée du quai Branly (73.1996.1.1).

Songye statue of the day: Tombwe of Kabashilange

Songye figure Kabashilange Congo Burton field-photo

 

After yesterdays Luba chief, another amazing field-photo from Missionary pioneering in Congo forests: a narrative of the labours of William F.P. Burton and his companions in the native villages of Luba-Land (p. 188): a Songye figure, “the famous fetish of Kabashilange”, in full action. Burton, still exploring the Luba-Songye region, writes in his diary:

Arriving at Kabashilange, our stopping place, a village of about 250 people, we found ourselves in the centre of a considerable crowd doing honor to their far famed ‘Nkishi’ or idol, named Tombwe, which was made by four powerful magicians at a price of 200 francs and a woman. The woman, frightened to become the wife of a magician, ran away, but was brought back and forced into submission, though screaming and almost incoherent in her terror

This tiny bit of information proves already to be very informative. It confirms, once more, that each Songye statue had a personal name. This is the first reference I’ve come across of a figure being ‘made’ by four diviners. Unfortunately that ‘made’ isn’t specified; Burton probably meant ‘activated’ and it’s not clear if one of the four was also the sculptor. Also note how even a small village of 250 people did have (at least) 4 diviners. Burton continues describing ‘Tombwe’:

The ‘nkishi’ is about two feet six inches high. A wooden figure covered with charms, etc. It is carried about by two women, who may not touch its sacred person, but hold it by two long poles attached to its arms. Moreover as it is carried, a drum and rattle band is in attendance, while little girls sweep the ground before it, as it stood upright, with grass cloth bundles filled with magic charms. The father of a certain native Songye, was lost, and the idol was paid a big sum to find him. The poor tired woman attendants dragged it uphill and down dale, through stream and forest, now and again professing to get on the scent, but in vain.

I knew the functions of these power statues were varied, but I had never read they were also used to find missing persons. What is especially noteworthy about this description is the fact that the statue couldn’t be touched and was carried by long poles attached to its arms – a known fact. This explains why you will see the connoisseur evaluating a Songye power figure looking at the arm pits of the statue: a well used authentic example will show a notable wear caused by the ropes connecting the poles to the figure under the arms.

Unfortunately, I wasn’t not able to discover the current location of Tombwe – it is even not sure if he ever left Kabashilange..

ps you can browse (or download) that 1922 Burton book here – there’s plenty more to discover!

Field-photo of the day: the Luba chief Kilulwe with his staff of office

Luba chief Kilulwe Congo Burton staff

While researching an important Luba object, I came across this amazing field-photo of a Luba chief in the 1922 book Missionary pioneering in Congo forests: a narrative of the labours of William F.P. Burton and his companions in the native villages of Luba-Land” (p. 196).

Traveling the Luba region around his missionary post at Mwanza, William Burton made a stop at Kilulwe, which was renowned far and near for its iron work. He writes:

The old chief Kilulwe came to meet us in the most extra-ordinary get up. He had a sort of halo round his head made of blue, black, and white beads, a similar bead-covered insignia across his breast, a very keen, well-made Luba knife stuck into his belt, a beautiful little leopard skin around his loins, and most extraordinary of all, an elaborately carved staff in his hand, on the head of which were artistically carved two Luba women arm in arm.

I did some research and was able to track down this staff; it is now in the collection of the Seattle Art Museum.

Luba staff. Height: 104 cm. Image courtesy of the Seattle Art Museum.

Luba staff. Height: 104 cm. Image courtesy of the Seattle Art Museum.

 

This staff was donated to the museum by Katherine White, who had bought it from Alan Brandt. Unfortunately it is not known how and when it left Congo. What can be sure is that Chief Kilulwe certainly did not give it to Burton, who writes:

By the afternoon, the chief, who had become offended, had recovered from his sulks and attended the Gospel with a big following, though his whole attitude was that of graciously condescending to patronize our meeting with his august presence; and I fear that he will have to bend his bead-crowned head considerably lower before he can enter the strait gate of Salvation through repentance toward God and faith in the Lord Jesus Christ.

ps Kilulwe was also documented by Burton as a blacksmith & sculptor. Considering the important role of blacksmithing in
 the founding of the Luba kingdom and the original culture hero’s identity as a master blacksmith, it is not surprising that a chief would also by be an artist. So possibly it was Chief Twito Kilulwe himself who carved this remarkable staff.

Field-photo of the day: an ‘okoroshi’ masquerade among the Usuama Igbo

An okoroshi masquerade featuring the character of Onyejuwe. Photo by G. I. Jones, 1930s, at Eziama Orlu (Isuama Igbo).

An okoroshi masquerade featuring the character of Onyejuwe. Photo by G. I. Jones, 1930s, at Eziama Orlu (Isuama Igbo).

One of the sleepers in the Kunin sale was the below Igbo mask which was much better than its estimate suggested. After doing some research on it I found much more information than was available in the sale catalogue and traced down the masks’ possible village of origin. G.I. Jones photographed a very similar mask among the Isuama Igbo in Eziama Orlu in the 1930s. Comparing the mouth, ears, nose, eyes and eyebrows with the mask under discussion here, it’s very probable this mask was made by the same sculptor.

Igbo mask. Height: 49,3 cm. Image courtesy of Sotheby's.

Igbo mask. Height: 49,3 cm. Image courtesy of Sotheby’s.

Another mask from this artist is in the collection of Yale University. G.I. Jones wrote that the carver of these masks was a professional canoe maker who spent a large part of his time working with his gang in the forests of the northern Delta. (Jones (G.I.), “The art of Eastern Nigeria”, Cambridge, 1984: p. 123).

Igbo mask. Height: 42,6 cm. Image courtesy of the Yale University Art Gallery, New Haven, USA (2006.51.515).

Igbo mask. Height: 42,6 cm. Image courtesy of the Yale University Art Gallery, New Haven, USA (2006.51.515).

Okoroshi was a six week Igbo masking season during which water spirits bless the growing crops during the height of the rainy season. White-faced masks generally embodied benign female characters who dance prettily in open arenas for large crowds. They were conceptually opposed to dark masked male characters, often with ugly faces.

There’s another field-photo of this mask during the same performance.

An okoroshi masquerade depicting a close up of two beautiful characters. The one on the right is called Onyejuwe.The character on the left is wearing a white face mask consisting of an oval face with a high forehead with black painted head and a superstructure of two pointed horns and a carved white faced head in the centre; the face of the mask is white with black lines down the centre of the forehead, chin and black diagonal markings on the cheeks. The costume consists of layers of plaid cloth; two cloths are hanging from the wooden headdress.The character on the right, known as Onyejuwe, is wearing a white face mask with an elaborate headdress consisting of two pointed and arched horns emanating from the sides and in the middle are three carved faces painted white. The face of the mask is painted white with black incised coiffure a the top, black lines in the centre of the forehead and on both cheeks; slit eyes, nose and open mouth exaggerated mouth with white teeth. The masquerader is wearing covered in cloth. Photo by G. I. Jones, 1930s, at Eziama Orlu.

An okoroshi masquerade depicting a close up of two beautiful characters. The one on the right is called Onyejuwe.The character on the left is wearing a white face mask consisting of an oval face with a high forehead with black painted head and a superstructure of two pointed horns and a carved white faced head in the centre; the face of the mask is white with black lines down the centre of the forehead, chin and black diagonal markings on the cheeks. The costume consists of layers of plaid cloth; two cloths are hanging from the wooden headdress.The character on the right, known as Onyejuwe, is wearing a white face mask with an elaborate headdress consisting of two pointed and arched horns emanating from the sides and in the middle are three carved faces painted white. The face of the mask is painted white with black incised coiffure a the top, black lines in the centre of the forehead and on both cheeks; slit eyes, nose and open mouth exaggerated mouth with white teeth. The masquerader is wearing covered in cloth. Photo by G. I. Jones, 1930s, at Eziama Orlu.

Eziama Orlu is located at number (28) – in Usuama Igbo territory – on the map below.

Map from Jones (Gwilym Iwan), "The art of Eastern Nigeria", Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1984.

Map from Jones (Gwilym Iwan), “The art of Eastern Nigeria”, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1984.

The Kunin mask most likely represented the same Okoroshi character – called nwanyure (‘proud woman’) – as featured on the field-photo below. Note the very similar iconography.

An Okorosie or Okoroshi masquerade with a ‘beautiful’ female charater. The masquerader is wearing a wooden white face mask that is oval in shape with a superstructure of another carved head with plaits on top. The white face is accentuated with balck markings and with two diagonal lines on the cheeks. The masquerader is draped in several cloths and is holding a clapper in one hand. Photo by G. I. Jones, 1930s, at Eziama Orlu (Isuama Igbo).

An Okorosie or Okoroshi masquerade with a ‘beautiful’ female charater. The masquerader is wearing a wooden white face mask that is oval in shape with a superstructure of another carved head with plaits on top. The white face is accentuated with balck markings and with two diagonal lines on the cheeks. The masquerader is draped in several cloths and is holding a clapper in one hand. Photo by G. I. Jones, 1930s, at Eziama Orlu (Isuama Igbo).

 

Early photography from the Solomon Islands (1870s-1920s)

Portrait of a chief wearing a large kapkap on the forehead (ca. 1920). Image courtesy of Galerie Meyer.

Portrait of a chief wearing a large kapkap on the forehead (ca. 1920). Image courtesy of Galerie Meyer.

Anthony Meyer (from the Parisian Galerie Meyer) recently presented a very interesting catalogue documenting a large group of amazing field-photos made in the Solomon Islands between 1870 and 1920. It’s written by Allison Huetz and available for free here.

"Skull ceremony on beach of Vella Lavella after raid on Savo" (1921). Image courtesy of Galerie Meyer.

“Skull ceremony on beach of Vella Lavella after raid on Savo” (1921). Image courtesy of Galerie Meyer.

The postcards of Jean Audema

Jean Audema postcard Vili diviner Kongo

The above postcard featuring a Vili diviner holding a statue and accompanied by two musicians is well known. It’s photographer, Jean François Audema (1864-1921), who joined the French colonial service in 1894, made numerous photos in Gabon, Congo and Tchad between 1894 and 1912. The National Museum of African Art’s Eliot Elisofon Photographic Archives has made these precious time-documents available online here (ca. 150 images). If you wish to learn more about Audema and his photographs: Christraud Geary gives a short assessment of his work held by the Smithsonian in In and Out of Focus: Images from Central Africa, 1885-1960 (London, 2002) and David MacDougall dedicates a chapter to the man in The Corporeal Image: Film, Ethnography and the Senses (Princeton University Press, 2006).

Jean Audema postcard Fang woman choker

Jean Audema postcard Ubangi warriors

Jean Audema postcard Yakoma village Congo

Field-photo of the day: a Bakutu woman (D.R. Congo)

Africa | Bakutu woman. Tshuapa, Bodende, Belgian Congo (today, the Democratic Republic of Congo) | C. Lamote. ca. 1957

This impressive photo of a Bakutu woman was taken by C. Lamote (a Congopresse photographer in the Belgian Congo) ca. 1957 in Tshuapa, Bodende. Below two examples of such headdresses from the Ginzberg collection. These were worn by noble Kutu women of elevated rank on top of their heads, with the flaps down along the sides of the face. Beads or upholstery tacks were fixed on a stiff fiber framework. (African Forms, Milan, 2000: p. 239)

Two Kutu headdresses. Height: 18 & 24 cm. Image courtesy of Sotheby's (Sotheby's, Paris, 10 September 2007. Lot 77A & 77B).

Two Kutu headdresses. Height: 18 & 24 cm. Image courtesy of Sotheby’s (sold at Sotheby’s, Paris, 10 September 2007. Lot 77A & 77B).

Field-photo of the day: a Baule woman dressing up

Image courtesy of the Ethnologisches Museum der Staatlichen Museen zu Berlin - Preußischer Kulturbesitz.

Image courtesy of the Ethnologisches Museum der Staatlichen Museen zu Berlin – Preußischer Kulturbesitz. (# VIII A 14566 a)

The above field-photo was made by Hans Himmelheber among the Baule in 1933-34. It’s rare to find a photo documenting these large brass anklets, as well as the typical ivory bracelets. You can find more than 100 additional field-photo’s from Himmelheber on the website of the Ethnological Museum of Berlin here (search for Himmelheber). In wooden sculpture you never encounter these large anklets, but the ivory bracelets sometimes are represented.

Seated Baule figure. Height: 56 cm. Image courtesy of Adrian Schlag & Roger Asselberghs. (published in Tribal Art Classics, 2005: p. 15)

Seated Baule figure. Height: 56 cm. Image courtesy of Adrian Schlag & Roger Asselberghs. (published in Tribal Art Classics, 2005: p. 15)

(ps note how the feet are turned inwards, a detail to remember)

UPDATE: never say never; a reader was so kind to send me this (unfortunately blurry) picture of a female figure wearing anklets.

Published in El Primer Eros, Barcelona, 2004.

Published in El Primer Eros, Barcelona, 2004.