LOBI FIGURE 87, Burkina Faso

Photographs © Tim Hamill

LOBI FIGURE 87, 22.5", $350

In spite of its appearance, this figure was probably made to be sold.

These enigmatic, brooding figures protect the Lobi people of Burkina Faso. Most are frontal, symmetrical and timeless sentinels expressing the traditional beliefs of the Lobi. Several depart from the norm with animated gestures, asymmetry or a great degree of symbolic abstraction.

The figures were placed on family altars in the thilda, a small sacristy or room in each dwelling. Each figure was not a representation but an actual spirit, or tibil thil. It protected the family and home from illness and other misfortunes. The spirit could also be used for divination; it could demand offerings and additions of other figures. Rarely, a head is used similarly to the figures. The accumulation of statues on a family altar gave social status and were passed on from father to son.

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