Art and Death in Southern Côte d’Ivoire

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

Côte d'IvoireAnyi peoples

Male figure

Mid 17th-early 20th century

Ceramic

H x W x D: 39.4 x 14.6 x 15.2 cm (15 1/2 x 5 3/4 x 6 in.)

Gift of Emil Arnold

69-35-16

Photograph by Franko Khoury

National Museum of African Art

Smithsonian Institution

This is an Anyi male figure. He has the typical ringed neck of Anyi mma (present in all Akan terracotta portraits and in most Akan wooden figurative sculpture as well). This indicates well-being and prosperity. This man also wears a metal hat (bulalè-kèlè in Anyi), which marks him as a man of high status in Anyi society. His body is typical of the bodies of many Akan terracotta figures: short, outstretched arms, a cylindrical torso, and very small or absent feet. The small points at the corners of his mouth represent a moustache, the marks on his cheeks and forehead are scarification, and his necklace and hat are also markers of individuality. All these are elements of portraiture in Akan terracottas. The Akan say these sculptures are like “photos” of the deceased. Rather than physical likenesses, the sculptures present the social, political and historical identities of their subjects.