Arts of Africa
ART OF THE BODY
These five artworks from throughout Africa 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, owing to both the shape of the ivory from which it was carved and the functional requirements of the object.
The Fang figure has primarily been reduced to a series of 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 Salampasu figure take the abstraction of the human form even further by greatly exaggerating the proportions. The Nsapo-Nsapo figure’s thin, extended arms and the Salampasu sculpture’s outthrust chest and flexed shoulders suggest different emotional states for these two protective figures—a tense anxiety, perhaps, in one and a tense readiness in the other.
31 x 8 1/2 x 6 3/4 in. (78.7 x 21.6 x 17.1 cm) (show scale)
Gift of Beatrice Riese
Oval, minimally decorated face mask on top of which is 21" tall standing female figure. Figure is nude, frontally posed, with arms at sides and knees slightly bent. Figure's oval face clearly delineated, with protruding eyes, straight nose, and slightly open mouth revealing two (metal?) teeth. Ears squarish with one hole in each lobe. Coiffure consists of a single ridge with shallow striations from brow, over top of head, continuing down to shoulder level. Scarification marks on cheeks and back of head. Long columnar neck with three shallow striations encircling middle. Broad shoulders and large breasts. Extensive linear scarification marks consisting of triangular and checkerboard patterns incised on back, upper arms, and buttocks. More lightly incised scarification marks above breasts and on belly. Naval protrudes slightly. Buttocks sharply delineated, moving into upper legs at a sharp angle. Thick, smooth curved legs. Hands and feet minimally carved with incised lines definiing fingers and toes. Mask below figure is oval in shape with square eye holes. Eye area set back approximately 1" from surface. Vertical ridge moves down center of eye area. Eye area rimmed with oval-shaped ridge. Twenty-four small holes evenly spaced around edge of mask. Interior unornamented. Condition good.
This item is not on view
Mossi. Mask (Karan-wemba), 19th century. Wood, 31 x 8 1/2 x 6 3/4 in. (78.7 x 21.6 x 17.1 cm). Brooklyn Museum, Gift of Beatrice Riese, 2005.13. Creative Commons-BY (Photo: Brooklyn Museum, 2005.13_SL1.jpg)
overall, 2005.13_SL1.jpg. Brooklyn Museum photograph
"CUR" at the beginning of an image file name means that the image was created by a curatorial staff member. These study images may be digital point-and-shoot photographs, when we don\'t yet have high-quality studio photography, or they may be scans of older negatives, slides, or photographic prints, providing historical documentation of the object.
You may download and use Brooklyn Museum images of this three-dimensional work in accordance with a Creative Commons license
. Fair use, as understood under the United States Copyright Act, may also apply.
Please include caption information from this page and credit the Brooklyn Museum. If you need a high resolution file, please fill out our online application form
For further information about copyright, we recommend resources at the United States Library of Congress
, Cornell University
, Copyright and Cultural Institutions: Guidelines for U.S. Libraries, Archives, and Museums
, and Copyright Watch
For more information about the Museum's rights project, including how rights types are assigned, please see our blog posts on copyright
If you have any information regarding this work and rights to it, please contact firstname.lastname@example.org
Not every record you will find here is complete. More information is available for some works than for others, and some entries have been updated more recently. Records are frequently reviewed and revised, and we welcome
any additional information you might have.
Why does African sculpture feature such pronounced navels?
There isn't a universal reason. In this case, the Karan-wemba mask depicts a married woman of high rank. She is seen as young and at the height of her beauty—just after giving birth to her first child, which could explain her slightly protruding belly.