Photographs © Tim Hamill
FON, BOCCIO POST 4, 31", $1200, Republic of Benin
Figure posts like these, Boccio, were placed outdoors and sunk into the earth, becoming wonderfully aged by exposure. Despite their small scale, they seem to gain a spiritual monumentality from being fused with the earth and believed in by man. Standing at the entrance of a village, a courtyard, a house, or a shrine, they served a protective function, barring the entrance of evil spirits.
These were not portraits or specific spirits, rather, the carved figure in human form is a repository or decoy for a spiritual force. In this instance the carved figure is a kind of substitute or stalking horse for the people it is meant to protect. Here, as in much African art, the form of the sculpture is related more to ideas about reality, both visible and invisible, than to the literal representation of nature.
These Boccio posts were often crudely worked. Many are carved by self-taught sculptors and lack refinement. Appropriate to their nature, which is nonhuman and nonspecific, and to their exposure to the elements, Boccio figures seldom have individual characteristics or individual human embellishments such as coiffures or scarification.
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