1000 x 667 CMS259 E - Art & Life in Africa - The University of Iowa Stanley Museum of Art

Côte d’IvoireBaule artist

Male figure

Wood, beads

H. 50.8 cm (20”)

University of Iowa Stanley Museum of Art, The Stanley Collection of African Art, X1986.259

Based on a report published at the turn of the century (Delafosse 1900: 443) that beautifully carved “human figures are placed on the tomb or grave of the deceased or even in the tomb, so that the spirit may find a place of repose,” Kjersmeier (1935 I) and many others have described Baule figures as memorials or even portraits of ancestors.  Apparently the function of these figures has changed over the intervening years since Delafosse’s report, or he misunderstood what he saw (Vogel 1973: 26, fn.16).  More recent research indicates that Baule figures, collectively called waka snan (“people of wood”), serve either as resting places for asie usu (nature spirits) who cause crop failures, hunting accidents, or sickness unless propitiated, or for blolo bian (spirit spouses) who are jealous of their human partner, and may cause sexual dysfunction if they are not given appropriate care and attention (Vogel 1973: 23-25).

This seated, male figure shows the carver’s careful attention to details of facial scarification and elaborate coiffure (the braids have been restored), which the Baule consider necessary to attract and please the spirits which trouble them.  

Professor Christopher D. Roy, 1991

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