Lot 147: 20th C. African Hemba Wood Ancestor Figure

Artemis Gallery

March 15, 2018
Louisville, CO, US

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Description: Africa, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Hemba peoples, ca. mid 20th century CE. A tall, hand-carved wooden ancestor figure, carved to represent both an individual and an ideal. The figure has both male and female characteristics, a common duality expressed in Hemba and nearby cultures' sculpture, the outward manifestation of their matrilineal culture and the role that male ancestors play as guardians. It stands on wide feet, carved in relief as part of an integrated round base. The short legs are bowed outward around a prominent phallus. Above that, the figure holds its swollen, pregnant stomach with both hands; this indicates that the ancestor is embracing its future descendants. The head is on a tall neck, janiform in style, with a bearded face with serenely-closed eyes on one side and a mask or shield with a complex geometric motif on the other side. Size: 5.95" W x 22.7" H (15.1 cm x 57.7 cm)

During the period of Belgian colonialism, figures like this one and similar others made by neighboring tribes became subtle symbols of resistance, depicting a vision of the body and the afterlife that was transgressive to the colonizers.

Provenance: private Eason Eige collection, Albuquerque, New Mexico, USA

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Condition Report: Surface cracks and wear commensurate with age. No insect damage (as many of these figures have). One small loss to the edge of the base but the figure stands easily on its own.
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