Lot 146: 20th C. Asante African Carved Wooden Fertility Idol

Artemis Gallery

March 15, 2018
Louisville, CO, US

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Description: West Africa, Ghana, Asante (Ashanti, Achanti) people, ca. mid 20th century CE. A painted, dark wood example of a disk-headed akua ba (akuaba) figure. The figure stands on a conical base with her arms out to the side; her torso is studded with small breasts and a navel. The thick rings carved around her neck are a standard artistic convention to show rolls of fat, which is a sign of beauty and prosperity in this culture. The face is small relative to the head and set low on the disk. The lines below the eyes are representative of scarification common among the Asante. Chains of tiny white and grey seed beads are around the neck and base. Size: 4.45" W x 12.3" H (11.3 cm x 31.2 cm); 13.3" H (33.8 cm) on included custom stand.

These figures, always female, are meant to show an idealized form of beauty; pregnant women are not supposed to even gaze upon something physically unattractive, because it might influence the features of her future child. The name, Akua ba, comes from a legend of a woman (Akua) who wanted to have children (ba) but could not, until a priest suggested she carry a small wooden doll and treat it like a child. Even though her local villagers laughed at her, she soon conceived a real child, and the practice became accepted. These dolls are always female because this is a matrilineal society, and so women prefer to have female children to carry on their family line.

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

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Condition Report: Small chips from edges and light scratching commensurate with age.
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