African designs, £9.99
Height: 150.000 cm
Gift of the Wellcome Historical Medical Museum
Igbo, 20th century AD
This carved, wooden complex consists of many images of power, such as horsemen, imported goods, military insignia, Europeans, rifles, wild beasts and masqueraders painted in white with black markings on the face. Such structures act as rallying points for public displays of dancing by different social groups. The images are carved separately and then pieced together on a central wooden armature.
The Igbo people also produce community shrines to honour and respect spirits which are represented by carved, standing figures of up to five feet high. Frequent offerings are made to ensure goodwill and the figures are decorated for annual festivals. The figures are placed in a public place with a roof to protect them.
The Igbo peoples are the largest ethnic group in south-eastern Nigeria. They set great store by personal success and achievement. Their villages and towns are headed by chiefs whose authority is organised via clans, local councils, men's societies, age-grades and associations who confer titles to designate social prestige and status. One institution, Ozo, utilise various objects to symbolize wealth, generosity, strength, intellect and moral integrity. The compound of a member of the Ozo institution has decorated doorways to indicate his membership and an obi, a shrine devoted to the ancestors of the head of the compound. Images carved into the portals include the Ozo staff, kola nut tray, knife and python and abstract motifs such as a lozenge and star. The lozenge represents the kola nut bowl, a symbol of hospitality and the star represents the head of the kola nut, a symbol of the ritual and social value of the kola.
H.M. Cole, Icons: ideals and power in the (Washington, Smithsonian Institution Press, 1989)
J. Perani and F.T. Smith, The visual arts of Africa: gen (Prentic Hall, New Jersey, 1998)