By Monica Demott
(formerly University of Iowa)

Côte d’Ivoire; Anyi artist

Mma (funerary head)

Fired clay

H. 19.05 cm (7.5")

University of Iowa Stanley Museum of Art, The Stanley Collection of African Art, X1986.580

Until the early twentieth century, there was a tradition among the Anyi, and among other groups in southern Côte d’Ivoire and Ghana, of creating a fired clay image of the deceased.  These mma statuettes served as a dwelling place for the deceased's soul.  Consisting of heads or small figures, which carefully reproduced the deceased's identifying characteristics, the mma statuettes were considered portraits.  Hairstyles, beards, hats, jewelry, and scarification marks were all faithfully rendered in clay.  As pottery was women's work in Anyi society, the mma statuettes were made by women and constitute a form of women's art.

Old postcard image of mmaso in southeastern Côte d’Ivoire. Photo by Robert Soppelsa.