Photographs © Tim Hamill
$800, Ivory Coast
Old Baule figures are rare. Despite their appearance, our couple figures show no evidence of age or use and were probably made to be sold.
The Baule are one of the Akan peoples. They moved west to the Ivory Coast more than 200 years ago and adopted sculptural and masking traditions from their neighbors, the Guro, Senufo and Yaure peoples.
Baule figures can be among the most elegant and designed pieces in Africa. Many show careful execution of face, coiffure and scarification details, with refined forms but no loss of expressiveness and power. The quiet, dignified figures embody spirits from the other world. They functioned as the home of a spirit to whom sacrifices were made and had to be placated with care. Asye usu figures were the abode of spirits associated with diviners. In ritual performances the spirit would come out to possess the diviner, causing a trance. The display of the figures would enhance and support the ensuing dance.
Small figures include the roughly carved bo usu that helped with hunting. .
The more refined blolo bla (spirit wife) and blolo bian (spirit husband) figures, if well taken care of, helped their human partners in all areas of life.
We recommend Baule: African Art Western Eyes by Susan M. Vogel (Yale).
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