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Divination Tapper (Iroke Ifá)

Arts of Africa

On View: Double Take Installation, East Gallery, 1st Floor
These five artworks from throughout the African continent display the range of approaches artists have taken to figural representation. They prove that the Western tradition of naturalism— depicting the body precisely as observed in life—is not even remotely the only possibility open to an artist.

The Mossi mask celebrates the female form. While it is not an exact replica of the body, the proportions are relatively balanced. The Yoruba tapper, used with a board to draw images during divinations, was carved with more exaggerated proportions, partly in order to contain it within the functional form of a tapper and the shape of the ivory from which it was carved.

The Fang figure, a masterpiece by a known artist or workshop, has primarily been reduced to a series of basic shapes—cylinders and circles. The legs and hips are conceived as the intersection of two perpendicular cylinders, echoing the cylindrical reliquary box on which the figure sat. The small Nsapo-Nsapo work and the Chamba figure take the abstraction of the human form even further by greatly exaggerating the proportions. The Nsapo-Nsapo example's stretched arms and the Chamba sculpture's outsized hands suggest different emotional states for these two protective figures—a tense anxiety, perhaps, in one and a lumbering aggression in the other.
  • Possible Place Made: Owo, Ondo State, Nigeria
  • DATES 18th century (possibly)
    DIMENSIONS 13 x 1 1/2 x 1 1/2 in. (33 x 3.8 x 3.8 cm)  (show scale)
    COLLECTIONS Arts of Africa
    MUSEUM LOCATION This item is on view in Double Take Installation, East Gallery, 1st Floor
    CREDIT LINE Collection of Beatrice Riese
    RIGHTS STATEMENT Creative Commons-BY
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    CAPTION Yoruba. Divination Tapper (Iroke Ifá), 18th century (possibly). Ivory, 13 x 1 1/2 x 1 1/2 in. (33 x 3.8 x 3.8 cm). Brooklyn Museum, Collection of Beatrice Riese, 2011.4.1. Creative Commons-BY
    IMAGE overall, 2011.4.1_SL3.jpg. Brooklyn Museum photograph
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    CATALOGUE DESCRIPTION Ivory staff. Upper half carved in the form of a kneeling nude woman wearing only a beaded waist band, a beaded necklace with triangular amulets in the front and back, and an elaborate coiffure. The woman holds a fan in her hands. Her face has a lip labret and three scarification marks on each cheek. The pupil of the left eye has an iron (?) inlay. The inlay of the right eye has been lost leaving behind black residue in its place. The lower pointed end of the staff is circumscribed with shallow narrow lines between bands of cross hatching. Condition: Overall condition excellent, numerous hairline cracks in surface.
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    Divination Tapper (Iroke Ifá)