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Chief's Chair

Arts of Africa

On View: Double Take Installation, East Gallery, 1st Floor
African artists have a long history of responding to fresh design concepts, while always revising them to ends both practical and novel. Together, these three works trace the evolution of a single form: first, as an imported idea became African, and then as contemporary artists adapted this African form for a global market.

Most seats in sub-Saharan Africa are low stools, carved from a single block of wood. Yet, as early as the sixteenth century, Portuguese traders and explorers introduced chairs with backs to southern and eastern Africa. Chokwe artists soon began to produce similar chairs, adding sculptural scenes and Chokwe motifs. This wood chair was carved as an object of status for a chief.

In fact, none of these three chairs were meant for sitting. Gonçalo Mabunda's Harmony chair uses decommissioned handguns, bullet belts, and other munitions collected from the estimated 7 million weapons left in Mozambique following the end of its civil war in 1992. Its design references a coastal East African tradition of high-backed chairs that were symbols of power and prestige, discussion and debate.

The Sansa chair, an inventive deconstruction of the chair form, is among the original creations that have established Cheick Diallo as one of Africa's leading contemporary designers. Built at Diallo's direction by artisans from Bamako, the half-reclining Sansa chair seems to sit midway between a European notion of the chair as a leisure object and a West African idea of the chair as a support for displaying a person of status.
MEDIUM Copper alloy, animal hide, wood
DATES 19th century
DIMENSIONS 26 3/4 x 12 x 15 1/2 in. (67.9 x 30.5 x 39.4 cm)  (show scale)
COLLECTIONS Arts of Africa
MUSEUM LOCATION This item is on view in Double Take Installation, East Gallery, 1st Floor
CREDIT LINE Museum Expedition 1922, Robert B. Woodward Memorial Fund
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CAPTION Chokwe. Chief's Chair, 19th century. Copper alloy, animal hide, wood, 26 3/4 x 12 x 15 1/2 in. (67.9 x 30.5 x 39.4 cm). Brooklyn Museum, Museum Expedition 1922, Robert B. Woodward Memorial Fund, 22.187. Creative Commons-BY
IMAGE 3/4, 22.187_threequarter_SL1.jpg. Brooklyn Museum photograph
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CATALOGUE DESCRIPTION European-style chair with two splats, rungs, and a leather-covered seat, decorated with figural and animal carvings and brass tacks. Carved geometric, designs on front and back of splats create background for a Chihongo mask, rows of figures, a snake, the backs of birds, and two figures with Cikunza masks. Figures representing daily and ceremonial life (e.g. man on the back of a cow, musician, etc.) decorate the rungs and front legs of the chair. The front figure between the legs on the proper right panel is lost. The lower left figure on the front of the seat back has losses on both feet. On the hide seat, there is a loss on the front of the proper left edge. On the rear and at the center and proper left top edges of the seat back, the surface is abraded. There are some tacks missing.
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