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Elephant Tusk Carved with Figures in Relief

Arts of Africa

The staff has long been a symbol of authority and power in Western culture. Contact between Europe and Africa transplanted both the form and its meaning to Africa during the European Renaissance, and the African staff took on new forms of decoration. By the mid-nineteenth century, African craftsmen were also carving ivory tusks specifically for the export market with horizontal bands of narrative figures spiraling up the form. These were based on African side-blown horns, which had been carved with similar decoration, but in the works for export the function of a horn has been lost in favor of the value to Westerners of the ivory, which was traded along the same routes as slaves.
MEDIUM Ivory, graphite
DATES late 19th century
DIMENSIONS 39 x 4 3/8 x 8 x 4 in. (99.1 x 11.1 x 20.3 x 10.2 cm)  (show scale)
COLLECTIONS Arts of Africa
CREDIT LINE A. Augustus Healy Fund
CATALOGUE DESCRIPTION Ivory tusk with carved spiral low relief. A procession winds in a spiral from the base to the tip of the tusk giving a pageant of life with about 150 figures, mostly men and women but also including monkeys in trees, elephants eating palms, leopards, fish and serpents. Many of the figures wear typical skirts and blouses of the 1880's and tip narrow-brimmed hats to each other when they meet. The making and drinking of palm wine is depicted and there are passages which show authority being exercised by means of the sword. Also, there are domestic scenes. Graphite used throughout. CONDITION: Good.
MUSEUM LOCATION This item is not on view
CAPTION Vili. Elephant Tusk Carved with Figures in Relief, late 19th century. Ivory, graphite, 39 x 4 3/8 x 8 x 4 in. (99.1 x 11.1 x 20.3 x 10.2 cm). Brooklyn Museum, A. Augustus Healy Fund, 35.679. Creative Commons-BY (Photo: Brooklyn Museum, 35.679_view1_PS1.jpg)
IMAGE overall, 35.679_view1_PS1.jpg. Brooklyn Museum photograph, 2007
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