Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Benin Mask is Withdrawn from Sotheby's Auction After Online Protest

A rare £4.5 million West African ivory mask, believed to have been looted by the British during a 19th century invasion of Benin (in present-day Nigeria), was withdrawn from a Sotheby's sale slated for February. The withdrawal was in response to online protests regarding claims of cultural patrimony and demands for repatriation. 

The mask, one of the last great masterpieces of Benin sculpture remaining in private hands, is believed to have been worn by the "Oba" or king of Benin on ceremonial occasions. It depicts the head of the queen mother of the Edo peoples and has a refined and untouched surface, which has been well treated with palm oil. 

The protests were organized and led by the Nigeria Liberty Forum (NLF), an activist group of Nigerians and friends of Nigeria. The group describes themselves as "UK-based Nigerian pro-democracy group." The protests began last week on social networking sites and an online petition circulated by the group. Local government officials in Nigeria have publicly condemned the sale and criticized the current owners. 

"It is a shame that in this time and age individuals continue to plunder and abuse the culture and heritage of a defenseless people just because they can," NLF's letter to Sotheby's stated. "To this end we request that you withdraw the items from the sale forthwith as the true ownership is far from settled. We would also like to request that you go a step further and advise your clients to return these items back to the Nigerian people where they rightfully belong."

The mask was one of several items to be sold at Sotheby's in London by the descendants of Lt. Col. Sir Henry Gallwey, a vice consul of a British protectorate in Nigeria who took part in the 1897 invasion of Benin when the British deposed the king and burned and looted the city. They auctioned off much of the objects to pay for the offensive. Several pieces, including a mask similar to the one withdrawn from Sotheby's auction, were ultimately placed in the British Museum. 

Sotheby's official statement:

“The Benin Ivory Pendant Mask and other items consigned by the descendants of  Lionel Galway which Sotheby’s had announced for auction in February 2011 have been withdrawn from sale at the request of the consignors.” 

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Rare, Newly Re-Discovered African Art Masterpiece to be sold at Sotheby's London in February 2011

On February 17 2011, Sotheby's will sell a rare, newly re-discovered, 16th century ivory pendant mask depicting the head of the Queen mother from the Edo peoples, Kingdom of Benin in Nigeria along with five other rare works from Benin collected at the same time. 

Only four other historical ivory pendant masks with related iconography of this age and quality are known – all of which are housed in major museums around the world. All of the ivory masks are widely recognized for the quality of their craftsmanship, for the enormous scale of Benin’s artistic achievement and for their importance in the field of African art. Produced for the Oba (or King) of Benin, these ivory pendant masks are testament to the Kingdom of Benin’s golden age when the kingdom flourished economically, politically and artistically. 

The masks rank among the most iconic works of art to have been created in Africa. The mask to be sold at Sotheby’s in February is estimated at £3.5-4.5* million. It had been on public view in 1947 as part of a loan exhibition at the Berkeley Galleries in London entitled ‘Ancient Benin’, and then again in 1951 in ‘Traditional Sculpture from the Colonies’ at the Arts Gallery of the Imperial Institute in London. 

The mask and the five other Benin objects will be sold by the descendants of Lieutenant Colonel Sir Henry Lionel Gallwey (in 1913 he changed his name to Galway) who was appointed deputy commissioner and vice-consul in the newly established Oil Rivers Protectorate (later the Niger Coast Protectorate) in 1891. He remained in Nigeria until 1902 and participated in the British Government’s “Punitive Expedition” of 1897 against Benin City. The faces of the five known pendant masks have been interpreted widely by scholars of Benin art as that of Idia, the first Queen Mother of Benin. 

The mother of the Oba Esigie (c. 1504 – 1550), Idia was granted the title of Iyoba (Queen Mother) by Esigie in recognition of her help and counsel during his military campaigns. Idia remains a celebrated figure in Benin, known as the ‘only woman who went to war’. The masks were created at least in part as objects of veneration. The worn and honey-coloured surface of the offered mask attests to years of rubbing with palm oil, and surface as well as the style of carving is most similar to the example in The Seattle Art Museum. 

The mask comes to auction together with: a highly important carved tusk made with a group of other similarly carved tusks for the altar of an Oba who lived in the 18th century. The imagery presented depicts emblems of power and strength which are related to the life of the Oba himself. The iconography is specific, and can be seen repeated across many arts forms in Benin, including the well-documented bronze plaques. The collection also includes two richly carved ivory armlets which incorporate many of the panoply of motifs used by the artists of the Igbesanmwan, the Royal Guild of ivory carvers. 

As with most ivory carvings, these were more than likely made for an Oba, as he would have had complete control over the production of works of art made from precious ivory. Also in the collection is a rare bronze armlet, cast with Portuguese figures in an openwork motif. The earliest appearance of the Portuguese in plaques and free-standing figures and bracelets in the 16th and 17th century was undoubtedly calculated by the Benin to add considerable prestige to the Oba and his courts demonstrating that his power extended beyond the confines of his own people. 

Finally, the collection includes a very rare bronze sculpture of a type historically identified as tusk stands. The twisted and hollowed form of this stand suggests it served the same function as the more familiar bronze commemorative heads, as a stand for a carved ivory tusk on an altar created to honour a former ruler. 

*Estimates do not include buyer’s premium


Monday, December 20, 2010

"Art of Central Africa" at Asian Civilizations Museum, Singapore

Congo River: Arts of Central Africa
is now on display at the Asian Civilizations Museum in Singapore. Known as the 'river that swallows all rivers," the Congo today links the nations of the Democratic Republic of Congo, the Republic of Congo and Gabon. Drawing from the Musee du quai Branly and other European collections of African art, Congo River: Arts of Central Africa is the first exhibit of its kind to be held in Southeast Asia. 

Central Africa is home to various Bantu-speaking peoples with a shared past. The artistic heritage of this region has often been studied as the art of disparate groups of unrelated cultures. These cultures are nevertheless linked by themes that stretch across a region that is 5,000 times the size of Singapore. Themes include heart-shaped masks, reliquary figures for ancestor veneration and female representations. 

The exhibition links diverse cultures as well three modern nations, whose rich artistic traditions are explored. The show features beautifully crafted sculptures, masks and ancestor figures, and highlights their importance in ceremonies, rituals, and dances. The visual power of these objects have long impressed collectors and artists, and the exhibition also displays works by Pablo Picasso, who in the early 20th century was strongly influence by African art as he developed his modernist style. 

A full range of programs for families, adults and students will be held in conjunction with the exhibition. 

Source: Asian Civilizations Museum, Singapore

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

New Acquisitions at Jacaranda Tribal!

Jacaranda Tribal is now featuring our newest acquisitions on the gallery website. The new objects are a remarkable survey of artworks that have been produced in the southern region of Africa. Highlights from the selection include a rare and early zebra shield made by the Shangaan peoples of South Africa. The thirty-eight inch high shield is made of zebra hide, which is found on east African shields but rarely seen further south.

Also featured are a variety of South African pipes, which range from beautifully beaded Xhosa pipes to a rare Xhosa wood pipe with figurative lead onlay ornamentation. An exquisite 19th century Zulu horn pipe features elegant carving in the classic amasumpa decoration.

Vessels include a small wooden bowl which depicts three ducks in the various stages of diving below the water surface. The bowl was most likely used for food storage by members of the Lozi tribe of Zambia. A lidded South Sotho pot is an extraordinary example of the elegant wood and pokerwork craftsmanship of the Lesotho carvers.

Visit to view all of the new acquisitions.

Photo: Rare 19th Century Zebra Hide Shield, Shangaan, South Africa

South Sotho Pot with Lid - Lesotho
Xhosa Wood Pipe with Lead Onlay - South Africa
Zulu Horn Pipe - South Africa

Monday, December 13, 2010

"African Artistry in Iron and Clay" at The Birmingham Museum of Art

A new exhibition at the Birmingham Museum of Art in Alabama features approximately fifty-five works of African ceramics and iron art, including vessels, musical instruments, currency objects, sculpted figures, staffs, tools and ritual objects. The objects come primarily from the countries of Mali, Burkina Faso, Niger, Nigeria, and the Democratic Republic of Congo. 

Iron and clay are extremely important materials and media in West African culture. They are valued not only for their practical use in the fabrication of essential tools, weapons, currency, and vessels, but also for their spiritual potency. Objects made of iron and clay play important roles in rites of passage, healing rituals, divinations, governance, religious practice, and conflict mediation. Many myths and legends recount the importance of the blacksmith and the potter in African society. 

Throughout Africa, blacksmiths are generally born into their occupational specialty, and may only marry women from other blacksmith families. While the men smelt and forge iron, the women in their families specialize in ceramics, creating vessels for daily use and ritual objects. It is fire that transforms raw clay and iron ore into the secular and sacred objects that are essential to the well-being of African communities. This specialized occupational knowledge is jealously guarded by these men and women, who acknowledge that it was originally imparted by a divine source, usually as part of a sacred covenant. 

The ceramics in this exhibition are only loan to the Museum from The Dick Jemison Collection. Jemison, an artist who divides his time between Birmingham and the American Southwest, is interested in tribal arts around the world. The iron objects in the exhibition were given to the Museum in 2004 by Mort and Sue Fuller, of New York. 

The exhibition is on view through March 2011. 

Source: The Birmingham Museum of Art

Friday, December 10, 2010

Spirits and Headhunters: Art of the Pacific Islands at Bowers Museum

Photographer Chris Rainier guest curates this ongoing exhibition of art from the South Pacific at the Bowers Museum in Santa Ana, California. Spanning the geographic region collectively referred to as Oceania, this comprehensive exhibition highlights masterworks from the three cultural regions of Micronesia, Melanesia, and Polynesia. Particular focus is placed on New Guinea, land of the headhunter, and the rich artistic traditions infused into daily and ritual life. 
The exhibition includes more than 150 unique pieces including larger than life masks, objects associated with the secretive Sepik River men's house, magic figures and tools of the shaman, spectacular-crafted personal adornments, weapons of warfare, stunning shell and feather currency, masterfully crafted feast bowls, and the most precious of human trophies taken in retribution and reverence. 
Melanesia, which includes the world's second largest island, New Guinea, is an island that has been explored by Bowers Museum President Peter Keller and Bowers Board Member Edwards Roski on 10 month-long expeditions over the last decade. 
"Oceania is significant for Californians since it is our neighbor and is an area where there is still much to be learned," Mr. Keller says. "This is part of our strategic plan to build a significant Oceania collection in an area of the world where we can make a difference."
This comprehensive exhibition will become a permanent exhibit at Bowers Museum. 
Source: Bowers Museum website

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

International Tribal Art Book Prize awarded on November 29th

The second annual International Tribal Art Book Prize was delivered on November 29th at Sotheby's Paris. The awards went to Congo River by Francois Neyt (Published by Fonds Mercator Branly) and Man Ray, African Art, & the Modernist Lens by Wendy A. Grossman (Published by International Arts & Artists). 

An international jury of magazine editors, tribal art scholars and collectors chose the winners based on strict criteria, including the quality of evidence presented, the interest of the topic at hand, iconography, the quality of printing, and accessibility to a wide audience. This year's candidates must have been published between October 2009 and September 2010. The prize is awarded to one French book and one English book each year. 

The books shortlisted include Teotihuacan: City of Gods, Exhibition at the Musee du Quai Branly, edited by Felipe Solis; Benin: Collection Visions of Africa by Barbara Plakensteiner; The Arts of Africa by Dr. Roslyn Adele Walker; and White Gold, Black Hands: Ivory Sculpture in Congo Vol. 1 by Marc Leo Felix et al. 
Last year's winners were Quai Branly Museum - The Collection, edited by Yves Le Fur and published by Skira Flammarion (French title) and James Cook & the Exploration of the Pacific, edited by Adrienne L. Kaeppler and Robert Fleck and published by Thames & Hudson (English title). 


Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Rare Luba Caryatid Stool sells for €5.4 million at Sotheby's Oceanic and African Art sale in Paris

A rare Luba Caryatid Stool from the collection of Harry Bombeeck was the top lot at Sotheby's sale of Oceanic and African Art sale in Paris, fetching fa remarkable €5.4 million. The sale totaled €8.5 million. 

The 51 centimeter-high seat is an outstanding work by the important sculptor of the royal court of the kingdom of Luba, known as the Master of Buli. This caryatid stool has been in the collection of notorious African art collector and dealer Harry Bombeeck since the late 19th century and has not been exhibited in over 65 years. The stool once served as ceremonial object most likely used by the council of elders when they presided over court cases in the Luba kingdom. 

Other top lots included a Male Figure from the Turamarubi Group of Papua New Guinea, which sold for €360,750. The figurative wood sculpture of a muscular male figure with red seed eyes was estimated to sell for € 400,000 - 600,000. A 43-centimeter high Senufo Female Figure sold for €294,750, nearly double the high estimate of €70,000 - 10,000. 

The sale of works from a private New York collection preceded the Oceanic and African Art auction, with a respectable 82% of the 49 lots finding buyers. The sale totaled €3.3 million. The auction's highlight was the Magnificent Fang Head from Gabon, which fetched €912,750. The work was offered for sale from the collection of Parisian African art dealer Paul Guillaume.