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Art and Death in Southern Côte d’Ivoire

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

Portrait pot. Akye artist, Côte d’Ivoire. Photo by Robert Soppelsa.


This piece, typical of the kind produced by the Akye of southeastern Côte d'Ivoire is called a ba. The term, like mma, which is used by the Anyi and Aowin, means "baby" or "child." Wooden shrine sculptures produced by the Akan are often referred to by this same term, indicating their association with major spirit forces. Akye portraits are limited in most cases to the head of the person, which is sculpted atop the spout of a long-necked water jar. The water jar is placed on the grave after the funeral of the deceased. Though they vary considerably in style, Akye pieces, like other Akan terracottas, generally portray the man or woman in the prime of life, youthful, and often smiling slightly.