Exhibtions Research

Object of the day: a Komaland figure uncovered at Yikpabongo (Ghana) in 2008

Image courtesy of the The Universities of Ghana and Manchester, and the Ghana Museums and Monuments Board (GMMB)
Image courtesy of the The Universities of Ghana and Manchester, and the Ghana Museums and Monuments Board (GMMB)

This man on a horseback, photographed at the moment of its discovery, is one of the 60 Komaland figures that is currently exhibited by the Manchester Museum. This group of objects were discovered during archaeological fieldwork directed by Prof. Ben Kankpeyeng and involving colleagues such as Prof. Tim Insoll (University of Manchester) working with the Ghana Museums and Monuments Board (GMMB). These figurines were found in a village called Yikpabongo in Koma Land in the north of Ghana. They come from two mounds thought to be used as a shrine by the makers of the objects. The exhibition catalogue, Fragmentary Ancestors: Figurines from Koma Land, Ghana, is freely available here. The Fragmentary Ancestors exhibition opened to the general public on 25th October 2013 and runs until 5th May 2014. Pictures of the exhibition can be found here. On this page, you can see more pictures of the archaeological excavations.

These figurines have been dated to between approximately 500 and 1300 AD. Using computed tomography scanning techniques at The University of Manchester, the team revealed hidden channels within the objects which they think had a medicinal function, used for liquid ritual offerings. See some results here.

a Komaland figure uncovered Manchester Museum

Koma horse and rider Manchester Museum

Museums News

A new museum for non-European art to open in Milan

Museo delle Culture Milan 1

According to this article in The Art Newspaper, Milan’s Museo delle Culture, a museum for non-European art, is forecast to open in October 2014. It is a project which has so far cost the city €60 million, and has been in the pipeline since 1999. In the meantime, the museum already received the nickname Il Quai Branly di Milano.

The museum, designed by the British architect David Chipperfield, will be a joint venture with the city of Milan overseeing the museum’s permanent collection, whilst a private company is to be in control of the institution’s commercial enterprises, education programme and the organisation of two annual temporary exhibitions. When the museum does open its doors to the public, it is to house 780m2 of permanent exhibition space and 1,500m2 of temporary exhibition space, enabling it to showcase a great variety of non-European works ranging in origin from pre-Columbian to modern and contemporary art – and of course also African art. The director of the permanent exhibition, Marina Pugliese, an art historian and also the director of Milan’s museum for Italian Modern art, says she wants the collection “to create a multidisciplinary and multicultural dialogue with contemporary culture”. The museum’s opening temporary show will be dedicated to the many international exhibitions held in Milan between 1850 and 1950, which introduced non-European art and ideas to the city.

Does anyone know more about Milan’s African art holdings ? (Update) A reader informed me it mainly consists of the former private collection of Ezio Bassani.

Museo delle Culture


Art in Dahomey in 1917

Incredible footage filmed at Dahomey (Republic of Benin) – thought to be from the cinema film L’Industrie de la Poterie chez les Femmes Ayagbès au Dahomey, distributed by Pathé in 1917.


Henri Labouret’s Les tribus du rameau Lobi (1931)

The University of Michigan Library has made Henri Labouret’s Les tribus du rameau Lobi (1931) freely available online. You can browse it here (including 31 pages of plates).

Henri Labouret Les tribus du rameau Lobi 1931
Henri Labouret Les tribus du rameau Lobi (1931) Gan bronzes
Henri Labouret Les tribus du rameau Lobi (1931) club whistle

Auctions News

Sotheby’s NY catalogues online (16/05/2014)

Ngbandi figure (lot 308). Height: 72,1 cm. Est. $ 200-300K. Ex Pablo Picasso. Image courtesy of Sotheby's.
Ngbandi figure (lot 308). Height: 72,1 cm. Est. $ 200-300K. Ex Pablo Picasso. Image courtesy of Sotheby’s.

























The two May 16 auction catalogues are online; you can browse the second part of the Allan Stone collection here. The various owners sale among others includes African art from the Lasansky and Krugier collections can be found here.

Songye figure (lot 69). Height: 54,6 cm. Est. $ 40-60K. Ex Allan Stone. Image courtesy of Sotheby's.
Songye figure (lot 69). Height: 54,6 cm. Est. $ 40-60K. Ex Allan Stone. Image courtesy of Sotheby’s.
Auctions Discoveries Objects

A newly discovered royal Luba-Kalundwe cup

Luba Kalundwe anthropomorphic cup 1

The above royal Luba cup probably can be crowned as the discovery of 2013. It was sold at a small European auction at the end of last year. The estimate being € 7,5-10K, it was hammered down for € 130.000 ! Not suprisingly, since cups shaped like human heads with twin drinking receptacles on their underside are among the rarest of Luba royal insignia. This example is very close to a cup sold by Sotheby’s in 2010 for € 161K (info). A third is in the Berlin Museum für Völkerkunde (purchased from Hermann Haberer in 1925) and a fourth cup was published in Utotombo (Brussels, 1988: p. 232, #219). Most cups of this type have emanated from Kanyok people and perhaps related groups to the west of the Luba heartland. The Sotheby’s cup has been attributed to a workshop in the Kalundwe region (Felix 1987: 48-49; Neyt 1993: 212), not far from the Luba heartland, as evidenced by certain formal attributes. Some additional pictures:

Luba Kalundwe anthropomorphic cup 2

Luba Kalundwe anthropomorphic cup 3

Luba Kalundwe anthropomorphic cup 4

Luba Kalundwe anthropomorphic cup 5

In the Sotheby’s catalogue, Mary Nooter Roberts made some interesting remarks about the function of these cups:

Luba cups of this sort were documented by the late Albert Maesen, former Head of the Ethnography Section at the Royal Museum of Central Africa in Tervuren, who conducted research and a collecting mission in southern Belgian Congo in the 1950s. Maesen reports that among the Kanyok, royal drinking vessels were the only objects he was not permitted to see in a storeroom in which the ruler’s emblems were guarded, including thrones and scepters. He was allowed to view the rectangular box in which the cups were kept, but he was informed that they were only used during a ruler’s investiture and for other sacred occasions (A. Maesen, personal communication, 1987).

Maesen found that royal cups called musenge were also used in a ceremony to honor paternal ancestral spirits, when a titleholder made an offering of cooked cassava while the ruler communed with his ancestors. The chief counselor named Shinga Hemb drank palm wine from one side of the cup and then passed it to the participants who drank from the other side. Similar acts were performed after divination or at the rising of a new moon (A. Maesen, personal communication, 1982).

The secrecy associated with these royal cups and their limited number suggests another possible association: Early colonial sources and oral traditions point to the importance of the skull of the previous ruler to the investiture of his successor. The skull was the vehicle through which the new ruler obtained power, blessing, and wisdom from his predecessor and validated his own link in the chain of political and moral authority. Quiet contemplation with the skull was essential to investiture, and some writers assert that the king consumed human blood from the cranium, to effect his transformation from an ordinary human being to a semi-divine ruler (Verbeke 1937: 59; Van Avermaet and Mbuya 1954: 709-711; Theuws 1962:216). Indeed, the Luba word for royalty, bulopwe,” refers to “the status of the blood” (Roberts and Roberts 2007:32). It has been asserted that carved wooden cups might have replaced and symbolized the use of skulls in important rituals (Huguette Van Geluwe, personal communication, 1982). Such an assertion remains a hypothetical explanation for the existence of these beautifully carved and carefully concealed cups.


Travel: Boulogne-sur-Mer Castle Museum, France

Image courtesy of Guido Musch. Other pictures by me.
Image courtesy of Guido Musch. Other pictures by me.

Last week we spend our easter holidays at the Côte d’Opale, a beautiful area in northern France. We stayed in a small village, Wissant, situated between its two famous big cliffs, the Cap Gris Nez and the Cap Blanc Nez. They are the French points of the coast the closest to England and you can indeed spot the cliffs at Dover, 33 km away, at the horizon. Wissant is located 20 km north of Boulogne-sur-Mer; which has an impressive 13th century castle that houses the Boulogne-sur-Mer Museum. Founded in 1825, this museum is especially known for having  the largest collection of Greek vases outside the Louvre. There’s also an extensive Egyptian collection which includes a full-scale mummy and various sarcophagi. Apparently it’s the fifth biggest collection in the world; but suprisingly only one room was reserved for it. Of course, it were the non-European rooms that made the visit worth the trip. To start, there’s an incredible ensemble of Alaskan masks (on which more in a later post) from the Isle of Kodiak. Unfortunately the quantity and quality of the African art on view was a bit underwhelming – notwithstanding a few older objects. This was in sharp contrast with the grand hall reserved for the Oceanic art which had multiple masterpieces and many early collected 19th century clubs on display. Below a photo report.

cape griz nez

cliffs of Dover

cap blanc nez

Baga figures pre 1909 Boulogne sur mer museum

Teke figures pre 1901 Boulogne sur Mer Museum

African art Boulogne sur Mer Museum overview 1

African art Boulogne sur Mer Museum overview 2

Oceanic Art Boulogne-sur-Mer museum

Boulogne Sur Mer Fiji clubs

Tiki Boulogne Sur Mer 1878

Tapuanu mask Mortlock Islands Boulogne sur mer


Object of the day: an early 19th century Fante doll from Ghana

Fante doll akuaba Ghana Boulogne sur mer

Fante doll Ghana Boulogne-sur-mer 1
























Above a Fante doll I photographed last week at the Boulogne-sur-Mer Museum (on which more later this week). According to its label, it was donated to the museum by M. Hamilton in 1838 – which probably makes it the earliest collected example known. It’s always suprising how old specific sculptural traditions can be. The iconography of dolls collected 100 years later barely changed. What differentiates these doll from 20th century examples is the addition of three conical packages inserted into the wood at the top (one lost). The same insertions can be noticed on two dolls acquired by the Berlin Ethnologisches Museum (SMPK) from Schänker in 1896 (cf. Kurt Krieger’s Westafrikanische Plastik, vol. II, 1969: pp. 28-29, #46 & #48). The facial features of this doll bear a remarkable resemblance to Vuvi masks of Gabon.


Happy Easter

Happy easter everybody ! I just returned from a short holiday and will resume posting tomorrow. Best, Bruno

Dogon dyommo (rabbit) mask. Height: 40,5 cm. Image courtesy of the National Museum of African Art, Washington, D.C., USA.
Dogon dyommo (rabbit) mask. Height: 40,5 cm. Image courtesy of the National Museum of African Art, Washington, D.C., USA.

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).