Object of the day: a Songye figure

(image courtesy of The British Museum)
(image courtesy of The British Museum)

A rare female Songye figure collected by Emil Torday in Lusambo in 1908, currently in the collection of The British Museum (#1908.Ty157). One of my favourite statues of the Songye; it’s head is truly amazing. Note that this specific shape of the lips is always a good indicator that you have an old example at hand.

You can browse the online collections of the British Museum here. Since many object records don’t yet feature a photo, don’t forget to tick the ‘images only’ box. A search on “Torday” gives a nice example of the scope of their holdings. Read more about Emil Torday here or in this book.

(image courtesy of The British Museum)
Portrait of Emil Torday holding a dead bird. Original Description: “Mokunji [sp.?] bird tabued by Batetela & Basonge.” (image courtesy of The British Museum)
Exhibtions News

Origins of the Afro Comb

(image courtesy of the Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology Cambridge)
(image courtesy of the Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology Cambridge)

A new interactive website displaying an interesting collection of both old and new African combs: Origins of the Afro Comb; a shared project between the Fitzwilliam Museum and the Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology in Cambridge, and The Petrie Museum of Egyptian Archaeology in London.

This project is multi-disciplinary and will combine new archaeological, anthropological and sociological research with community engagement. It will trace over 5000 years of history of the African comb from the Pre-dynastic period of Egypt to the Twentieth century in UK and US, and will include oral histories and personal testimonies that will document attitudes towards hair and grooming in the present day.

Hair and grooming have always played an important role in the culture of Africa and the African Diaspora and the traditional African comb, known also as an African pick, rake, or ‘Afro’ has played a crucial role in the creation, maintenance, and decoration of hair-styles. Furthermore, the African comb has been used by both men and women, and continues to be relevant to both groups in the present day.

Makes me remember my late grandfather, who wouldn’t leave the house without his comb in the inside pocket of his jacket – not that he had much hair.

Fairs News

Book signing during Parcours des Mondes 2013

I will be signing my book at Librairie Fischbacher during Parcours Des Mondes, wednesday September 11 at 16:00.

For the full program, check the Détours Des Mondes blog here.
Librairie Fischbacher

News Opinions

Museum Storage 2.0

An interesting article from the LA Times about the hidden collections of museums and ways to make them more accessible can be read here.

Behind an art museum’s gleaming galleries lies the off-limits and uninviting space that can hold as much as 95% of its collection: storage.

These spaces are often packed with hundreds or even thousands of paintings, decorative art objects and other artifacts that can languish, unappreciated and untouched by curators, for years. But as a way to bring art out from its underbelly and display more of a museum’s possessions, several institutions are embracing “visible storage” in public areas, exhibiting the art without the expense of a spacious, beautifully installed and curated show.

Govan is totally correct stating that “those objects are worthy for viewing and studying if not always for exhibitions. So you’re not contemplating a masterpiece, but maybe you’ll find value in comparing and contrasting different examples of vases” (or, for example, Kuba cups).

Visitors of the MAS in Antwerp can already experience something similar..

MAS Kijkdepot Bruno Claessens 1
MAS Kijkdepot Bruno Claessens 2
MAS Kijkdepot Bruno Claessens 3

See the full article for more examples here.


The G.I. Jones Photographic Archive of Southeastern Nigerian Art and culture

Ibibio mask G.I. Jones

A great resource for anyone interested in Southeastern Nigerian art, is the website featuring the photographic archive of G.I. Jones; you can find it here. It includes object pictures and rare field-photo’s from the different Igbo groups (and to a lesser extent Ibibio & Ogoni) taken in the 1930s. Jones’s book The Art of Southeastern Nigeria from 1984 is also a highly recommended read. Below a group of arusi figures from the Nri-Awka Igbo.

Arunsi Nri Waka Igbo

(both pictures courtesy of the G. I. Jones estate)


Paris police break up fake African art gang

A remarkable news item from Paris:

French police have uncovered one of the largest networks ever of fake African art in France. Twenty-two people were arrested and seven held in custody earlier this week after a six-month investigation.

Suspects had conned people into buying counterfeit works of art, which they had made look antique. The crooks used urine and cashewnut paste to give brand-new African wooden sculptures an antique look, selling them for around 100,000 euros a piece – well below the going rate for the real article. They targeted tourists and art lovers, approaching them as they left chic art galleries in central paris.

According to Le Parisien daily, which revealed the scam, police seized 500 pieces, including Fang masks from Gabon and Punu statues, from a workshop in Paris’s swish St Germain des Près district. The operation had been going on for more than a year.

Fakers beware !



A Chokwe carver named Itangui Itangui

I received some very interesting feedback of a reader concerning the previously discussed Lwena staff from the last Native auction.

While proofreading the manuscript of Africa at the Tropenmuseum (2011), Gerard van den Heuvel discovered a staff from Angola in the museum’s collection (Tropenmuseum inventory number 5144-10) attributed to the Lovale – illustrated below.

Chokwe Tropenmuseum 1Chokwe Tropenmuseum 2

(images courtesy of the Tropenmuseum) (unfortunately only available in a low resolution)

The attribution was corrected to Lwena, but since the upper figure was clearly carved in a Chokwe style (with the typical headdress), a second opinion was asked. The Chowke expert Manuel Jordan was consulted and this was what he had to say:

The staff is 100% Chokwe as the top figure represents the Chihongo mask character and one that is exclusive to Chokwe. Luvale/Lwena do not have the character. Chihongo masks are normally associated with the courts of chiefs and the maternities generally refer to the chief’s lineage or bloodline, therefore inheritance of the tile. The female figures are “mother and child” or maternity figures (not pregnant at this point but mothers with babies).

More specifically, I can identify this staff as either made by the hand of a Chokwe carver named Itangui Itangui or by somebody working with him/or his workshop. I have been researching Chokwe carvers (some randomly documented) and I can readily associate this one with Itangui. There are few references about him on Portuguese books in relation to specific type works. In short he is a carver that Portuguese ethnographer, Jose Redinha, met in the 1930s (my calculations) and one he considered a “master carver”, particularly known for maternity figures. This is tricky as not everything he made is a masterpiece but in my opinion your staff is made for local consumption and used in ceremonial contexts and not a piece made for export or Europeans.

A number of pieces from Itangui Itangui have come up at auction in the past several years, almost always erroneously identified as Lwena because people assume the hairstyle or coiffure departs from Chokwe.

Previously identified as “The Lwena master of the center parting coiffure”, I am extremely pleased we now know the name of this talented artist. Many thanks to Gerard van den Heuvel for the much appreciated feedback. Below a maternity figure by Itangui Itangui from the Dondo Museum.

Collection Museu do Dundo (G 289; 1939). Published in: Bastin (Marie-Louise), "La Sculpture Tshokwe", Meudon: Alain et Francoise Chaffin, 1982:171, #104.
Collection Museu do Dundo (G 289; 1939). Published in: Bastin (Marie-Louise), “La Sculpture Tshokwe”, Meudon: Alain et Francoise Chaffin, 1982:171, #104.

Field-photo of the day

Bangala couple

A beautiful intimate field-photo of a Bangala couple (D.R. Congo) I just discovered here. Registred in 1928 in the Bibliothèque nationale de France, unfortunately without any information about the photographer. Visit this link for 44 more wonderful field-photos from the same set. Image number two features the above husband looking forceful with a executioner’s sword and lance.


Field-photo of the day

Bangala couple

A beautiful intimate field-photo of a Bangala couple (D.R. Congo) I just discovered here. Registred in 1928 in the Bibliothèque nationale de France, unfortunately without any information about the photographer. Visit this link for 44 more wonderful field-photos from the same set. Image number two features the above husband looking forceful with a executioner’s sword and lance.


Book review: Schnitzer der Lobi (Petra & Stephan Herkenhoff, 2013)

Ever since Bernard de Grunne published Mains de maîtres / Masterhands in 2001, African art researchers, collectors and dealers have been trying to identify new workshops and artists. Stephan and Petra Herkenhoff’s Schnitzer der Lobi follows this trend. Schnitzer der Lobi (“Lobi artists”) is the second volume in a series wishing to bring a systematic review of the carving styles of Burkina Faso’s Lobi peoples. The first volume, published in 2006, documented 23 artists and their artistic production. The new book adds 16 new Lobi sculptors and workshops to this inventory, joined by 30 individual objects. Multiple figures illustrate each style, accompanied by a meticulous analysis of its defining characteristics. Reference objects are cited and more importantly an estimation of age is given. My personal favourite was the “Master of the Frog Heads”. Almost all pictures (318 in total) were made by the two Herkenhoff sons, a job well done. The inclusion of many details and side views is very instructive. Unfortunately, with some two-page spreads the middle figure got lost in the middle slit, but this is only a small flaw in the overall very well designed lay-out. Another praiseworthy feature of this book is the inclusion of the previously unpublished field-photos by Paul Gravé from 1934 which enrich this volume. The bibliography brings a last notable feature, presenting the front covers of the most important literature on the Lobi.

This wonderful book breathes a deep-rooted passion for the art of the Lobi. Like Betrand Goy wrote in his book review in the last issue of Tribal Art Magazine, the tireless efforts of the Herkenhoff family to promote Lobi statuary deserves much recognition; this book being indespensable in every library dedicated to African art.

You can order the book here.

Additional pictures and information on Lobi sculpture is available on the website.

Schnitzer der Lobi Herkenhoff 1Schnitzer der Lobi Herkenhoff 2
Schnitzer der Lobi Herkenhoff 3
Schnitzer der Lobi Herkenhoff 4
Schnitzer der Lobi Herkenhoff 5
Schnitzer der Lobi Herkenhoff 6
Schnitzer der Lobi Herkenhoff 7