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Smithsonian National Museum of African Art

Department of Education

Object 1 of 3

TOUR HIGHLIGHTS

Art Makers--World Shapers

Art Makers --World Shapers is a journey through the arts of Africa. Students will encounter the richness and complexity of African artworks and will consider why specific objects were made, for whom they were made and how these objects function in their respective societies.

Commemorative head of a king

Edo peoples Nigeria 18th century Copper alloy, iron H x W x D: 33 x 23.5 x 23.2 cm (13 x 9 1/4 x 9 1/8 in.) Gift of Joseph H. Hirshhorn to the Smithsonian Institution in 1979 85-19-16

This head was once displayed on an altar honoring a particular oba, or king. It is not a specific portrait but an image of the status and regalia of kingship. Particular emphasis is given to the collar and crown made of imported coral beads.

africa.si.edu

National Museum of African Art Telephone: 202-357-4600 || Department of Education Telephone: 202-357-4600 ext. 221

Smithsonian National Museum of African Art

Department of Education

Object 2 of 3

TOUR HIGHLIGHTS

Art Makers--World Shapers

Palace door (ilekun aafin)

Olowe of Ise ca. 1875-ca. 1938 Yoruba peoples Nigeria ca. 1904-1910 Wood, traces of pigment H x W x D: 207 x 88 x 15.9 cm (81 1/2 x 34 5/8 x 6 1/4 in.) Gift of Dr. and Mrs. Robert Kuhn 88-13-1

Olowe of Ise is considered by many art historians and art collectors to be the most important Yoruba artist of the 20th century. Active in the first quarter of the century, he designed and carved architectural sculptures for several palaces in the Ekiti region of Yorubaland. His work first became known in Europe when an elaborately carved and painted door and lintel ensemble he had created for the palace of the Ogoga (king) of Ikere was displayed at the 1924 British Empire Exhibition in London. Considered by experts in the British Museum to be "the finest piece of West African carving that has ever reached England," the door and its lintel were acquired for that museum's collection in exchange for a British-made throne. Olowe's innovative approach to carving the palace doors stands apart from Yoruba low relief work, which typically is flat and even. Olowe, however, carved in exceedingly high and uneven relief. The figures on this panel, the right side of a door, project in profile from the background by as much as 10 centimeters (approximately 4 inches), and the upper bodies of some figures are carved completely in the round. Instead of using static, frontal poses, Olowe turned the heads of the figures in opposition to their bodies to face the viewer. He crossed their legs to suggest walking or dancing motions. The panel shown here commemorates an actual event. At the end of the 19th century the Arinjale (king) of Ise received the first British traveling commissioners for the Ondo Province. The left side of the door (in a private collection) depicts Major W. R. Reeve-Tucker, the first traveling commissioner, and Captain W. G. Ambrose, his successor, and their entourage of African porters, soldiers, prisoners and British missionaries. This right panel depicts the Yoruba king and his entourage. The Arinjale, who is mounted on a horse and wears a conical crown surmounted by a bird, is seen in the second register. He is accompanied by a court messenger and a musician. Royal wives and children, guards, priests and others from the palace appear in successive registers. The decapitated female figure in the lowest register is a human sacrifice, an act committed on the rarest occasions to ensure the survival of the community. Originally three vultures pecked at the female's eyes, abdomen and feet; now only the feet of the birds remain. The faces carved on two columns along the length of the door may represent war captives or royal ancestors. Olowe carved the palace door from iroko, an iron-hard wood highly valued in his time and still used in modern building construction and furniture making. No photograph of Olowe has been located, but his oriki, or chanted attributes, claims that he was handsome and so strong that he could carve iroko wood "as though it were as soft as a calabash."

africa.si.edu

National Museum of African Art Telephone: 202-357-4600 || Department of Education Telephone: 202-357-4600 ext. 221

Smithsonian National Museum of African Art

Department of Education

Object 3 of 3

TOUR HIGHLIGHTS

Art Makers--World Shapers

Gameboard (opon ayo)

Yoruba peoples Nigeria Early-mid 20th century Wood H x W x D: 9 x 65.5 x 18.6 cm (3 9/16 x 25 13/16 x 7 5/16 in.) Gift of Monique and Jean Paul Barbier-Mueller 93-2-1

This gameboard is for playing ayoayo, the Yoruba version of mankala (also mancala), the generic term for an ancient family of "count and capture" games. Played by two people or, rarely, two teams, ayoayo uses undifferentiated pieces and a board with cuplike depressions evenly distributed in two, three or four parallel rows. The goal is for a player to capture a majority of the pieces or at least to immobilize his or her opponent. The successful player depends on strategy more than luck to win. Mankala is or has been played in parts of Africa, Asia and the Americas. African captives brought the game to the Americas during the era of the Atlantic slave trade. Because of its wide distribution and the presence of two-, three-, and four-row gameboards on the continent, mankala has been called Africa's "national" game. It has thousands of vernacular names. The Yoruba ayoayo (meaning "real ayo," a men's term used to distinguish their game from those played by women and children) is played on a 2-row, 12-hole board (opon ayo), the type that predominates in West Africa. Hard, grayish green, inedible seeds act as the game pieces. Gameboards range from holes scooped out of the ground or formed in exposed tree roots to wooden gameboards carved by professional artists. This elaborately decorated example is supported by 10 male figures and decorated with a male and female couple at one end and a pair of snakes at the other. Finely crafted boards like this were emblems of elevated political or social status and sometimes were given as prestigious gifts to important visitors.

africa.si.edu

National Museum of African Art Telephone: 202-357-4600 || Department of Education Telephone: 202-357-4600 ext. 221

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