Help needed tracking down a Djenne head

37 years ago, in 1984, this Djenne head in terracotta from Mali was exhibited in Antwerp during the exhibition Ancient terra-cotta statuary and pottery from Djenne. It was published in the show’s catalog by Adriaan Claerhout as no. 37. This rare head with a miniature figure on top was sold not long after the exhibition, and has not been seen ever since. 13,5 cm high, it should reside somewhere in a private collection, and I was wondering if anyone recognises it or knows where it now lives? Please do get in touch if that would be the case; thanks!

Discoveries Research

[Re:]Entanglements – Re-engaging with Colonial Archives in Postcolonial Times (MAA, Cambridge, 2021)

[Re:]Entanglements is an exhibition to open at the Museum of Archaeology & Anthropology (MAA) in Cambridge later this year. It will be the fourth major exhibition of this project, previous ones having taken place in Benin City, Lagos and Nsukka, as well as many smaller ‘pop up’ exhibitions in towns and villages in Nigeria and Sierra Leone where the British colonial anthropologist Northcote Thomas, who’s archives are the subject of the project, worked. The above door graphic is taken from the Faces|Voices film, and articulates the curator’s hope that the exhibition will provide an opportunity to confront/interrogate/debate colonial collections and archives in our decolonial times.

Funded by the UK’s Arts & Humanities Research Council, the [Re:]Entanglements project has been re-engaging with a unique ethnographic archive – including objects, photographs, sound recordings, botanical specimens, published work and fieldnotes – assembled by the colonial anthropologist, Northcote W. Thomas, in Southern Nigeria and Sierra Leone between 1909 and 1915. As well as better understanding the historical context in which these materials were gathered, the project seeks to examine their significance in the present. What do these archives and collections mean for different communities today? What actions do they make possible? How might we creatively explore their latent possibilities? The answers to those questions can be found on the project’s website here. A beautiful and very relevant endeavour if you ask me.

The blog features interesting posts about an Igbo alusi statue collected by Thomas here, the restoration of an ikenga statue (here), and a most interesting article on sacred stone axes on Benin altars (here) – and there’s much more to discover on the blog! Below a short clip as an introduction to the wealth of the Thomas archives.



A New Ireland Uli statue illuminating a vintage fashion shoot

While not African, it’s too chic not to share: an old advertisement from a Parisian fashion magazine featuring an Uli statue from New Ireland. Its original caption read: “Yellow wool dress by Grès, hat Barthet, gloves and bag Hermès, photo by Philippe Pottier at the home of art dealer Hélène Leloup“. The sculpture nor painting were identified – although they surely contributed to the success of the composition. On the topic of these Uli sculptures, you might be interested to know that the French scholar Jean-Philippe Beaulieu is preparing a monograph on them – surely a publication to look forward too!


Read “Bamana. The art of existence in Mali” freely online

The Africa Center in New York (previously the Museum for African Art), has made the exhibition catalog for the Bamana show from 20 years ago available online for free; you can discover this reference work on the material culture of the Bamana here.


At Galerie Pierre Loeb, anno 1953

I just came across the above picture by Denise Colomb and I thought I shared it as it reminded me of the pre-covid days. Normally the coming week would have been an exciting few days in Brussels with collectors from the whole of Europe flocking to Belgium for the winter Bruneaf and the BRAFA art fair at Tour&Taxis. While both events will take place (the fair on location in participating galleries), the travel restrictions, curfew, and closed restaurants and bars will make social get-togethers as above impossible. How we miss them!

Denise Colomb was in fact the artist’s name of Denise Loeb, sister of Pierre Loeb, the famed art dealer. The above photo was taken as his gallery in Paris in 1953. From left to right we see the abstraction lyrique group members Jean-Paul Riopelle, Jacques Germain (the painter, not the dealer!), Maria Helena Vieira da Silva, Pierre Loeb himself, Georges Mathieu, and Zao Wou-Ki. Hanging on the wall we see a Sepik hook, mask and shield, next to a painting by Riopelle. The abstraction lyrique art movement in fact was born not long after the Liberation of Paris in mid-1944. At that time, the artistic life in Paris, which had been devastated by the Occupation and Collaboration, resumed with numerous artists exhibited again. I’m optimistic too, that when all current restrictions on our lives will be lifted again, we’ll finally be able to start with our roaring twenties!

Museums Research

Munich’s Museum Fünf Kontinente stepping up its provenance research game

In terms of provenance research of their holdings, German museums historically have always been one step ahead. The Museum Fünf Kontinente in Munich leads by example again, by making scans of the original inventory books of its ethnological collections available on their website. You can find them here (in chronological order on the left of the page). Funded by the Bavarian State Ministry for Science and Art, the museum with this projects wishes to make these important historical sources freely available to researchers who wish to study the museum’s collecting activities and acquisitions.

ps thanks Ingo Barlovic for the tip!


Explore the collection of the Royal Ontario Museum online

Image courtesy of the Royal Ontario Museum (935.10.1).

Another database to bookmark, especially as it is impossible to travel to Toronto these days anyway. You can browse the collections of the Royal Ontario Museum online here. About 7500 objects from the African continent are listed, among which the above spectacular Efut headdress by Asikpo Edet Okon of Ibonda.

Coincidently the museum also holds a fake Mangbetu vessel made in Cameroon as recently discussed on the blog here. In the description we read

This vessel was produced as a copy of a classic Mangbetu style vessel acquired by the American Museum of Natural History at the beginning of the 20th century. Idrissou Kouotou has been specializing in this type of production since the 1980s. He does not work from photographs but reproduces rather faithfully known examples that he has carefully studied in the past. This vessel was produced in 2010 and aged for two years to give the dark patina. Idrissou Kouotou has his workshop in the Manga II quarter in Foumban right below the Rue des Artisans. He has been selling to an international clientele and to the local gallery owners for decades.

While I assume Kouotou sells his vessels for what they are, once they arrive in the West I’m not so sure its resellers remain that honest. The most fun object in the collection might very well be the below Kuyu kebe-kebe puppet with features of rock legend Elvis Presley. With his nickname “the king”, the maker of this puppet must have deemed him an appropriate inspiration to make this puppet considered kingly!

Image courtesy of the Royal Ontario Museum (2009.126.2).

Budapest’s Museum of Ethnography’s collection accessible online

Pende mask collected by Emil Torday, 1907-1909. Image courtesy of the Budapest Museum of Ethnography (#NM 80674).

A kind blog reader informed me I had not yet listed the Budapest Museum of Ethnography in my list of online available museum databases; you can explore it here. The database of one of the oldest Ethnographic museums in Europe holds about 6600 items. Although the search engine has been translated, the data for each object is still in Hungarian, so you’ll need to use google translate for your search queries. Search for ‘maszk’, ‘Belga Kongo’, ‘ferry szobra’ (male statue), etc. Among other interesting groups, you can discover lots of objects collected by Emil Torday between 1907 and 1909. Also Liberia and Ivory Coast have strong collections of works. As almost none of the objects in the museum’s collection were ever published, browsing the database will certainly result in some exciting finds. Happy scrolling dear friends !


Happy 2021!

Courtesy of Softlytaxidermy.

2020 surely was a year to remember for all of us. It was challenging to try to process all the changes in our lives, to say the least. Especially the readers with young kids will understand what I am talking about. On a personal level, my exit at Christie’s surely was an unforeseen 180° turnaround in my life. Although I’m happy the year is over, I feel grateful for the space it also gave to rethink my future. The lockdown surely presented an opportunity for reflection. As the saying goes.. never waste a good crisis. There is still so much work to do in the exciting world of African Art, and my mission as one of its passioned advocates is far from over.. more on that later this year.

For now, let me wish you a healthy and prosperous 2021!

Many thanks for all the continued interest and support.

Best wishes,