Standing figure

CULTURE:
Gbaye peoples (?)
DATE:
19th–20th century
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General Description

Small in stature but monumental in visual impact, this standing figure is highly stylized. There are no eyes, only a nose with slanted nostril-like perforations on its concave face. Below, a hole probably represents a mouth. One of the pierced ears carries an ornamental stalk. Beneath the angular neck, relief-carved arms frame a prominent herniated navel. The figure stands on short zigzag legs.

Neither this figure's precise ethnic attribution nor its use is known. Stylistic traits and religious practices suggest it originated in the Ubangi region and may have been used to ascertain the cause and cure of misfortune. It was a surrogate for a rubbing oracle—like the Kuba divining object in the form of an animal (1969.S.76.a-b)—when a diviner was not available. The central plane of the figure's torso corresponds to the divining instrument, and the navel represents the disk rubbed along the instrument.

Adapted from

Roslyn A. Walker, Label text, Arts of Africa, 2015.