Art and Death in Southern Côte d’Ivoire

by Robert Soppelsa
US State Department / Art in Embassies (formerly Washburn University)

Côte d’Ivoire; Anyi peoples

Mma (funerary head)

Fired clay

H. 19.05 cm (7.5")

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

Akan terracottas have been popular with collectors of African art for many years. This piece, from the Stanley Collection at the University of Iowa Museum of Art is from the Anyi of southeastern Côte d'Ivoire. It portrays a woman of royal status, whose hair is arranged in an elaborate coiffure. Her forehead is decorated with spiral patterns that are painted on the surface, and tiny flecks of gold dust are still apparent in some of these decorations. The use of gold on this particular piece indicates the high status of the lady who is portrayed, because only people of very high status are decorated with gold dust for their funerals. The gold is applied to the forehead of the deceased in patterns, as it was on this sculpture. Like most if not all Anyi pieces, this head was once part of a full figure, which undoubtedly had a short, abstracted body.