By Ying Tao
about African Art is not easy, especially when ones mind is clouded by cultural
biases. It is also hard to learn and understand African Art when the "art"
itself has been taken out of its functional context. African Art to its people is a lot
more than something to look at. Art in Africa has a form and a function and as we all
learned this semester, taking the object out of its context causes it to lose its meaning.
A mask meant to be used at a masquerade to pay tribute to ancestors placed in a museum
becomes only a mask to be admired for its craftsmanship and lovely details. The mask no
longer serves its true functions. This is the process of discovery. Understanding forms in
their true functions and understanding the ways in which they serve a particular culture.
We have to rid our minds of Western philosophies and beliefs before we can truly
understand what African art is.
This particular figure comes from the Bamum kingdom in Cameroon. It is a beaded figure and is likely part of a former kings collection. Beads were a precious commodity in Bamum and in much of Africa. Only the King (Fon) had access to the collection and production of beads and this led to the close association of beads to wealth and royalty. The Bamum were a conquering people and among the people they had subjugated were the Megnam people, who were magnificent beadworkers. The king commissioned them to work in his palace and they created many beaded figures, thrones and other pieces of works. This piece is likely to be a warrior because of the importance of warriors in this conquest nation. The object which it is holding may represent a weapon of some sort and his stance is likened to that of a warrior. The patterns on the figure also suggest that it may have something to do with war because the triangular zigzags on his body actually represent four-headed spears- a symbol meaning prowess in war. The beads on this figure show that it is of importance though the lack of other symbols particularly symbols of royalty show that this figure was not a royal memorial figure but rather an emblem of the kings wealth and power.
11 February 2004. Igwenagu, Emil. Director, Worcester African Cultural Center. Interview
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