Photographs © Tim Hamill
MUMUYE, FIGURE 69, 17", $350, Nigeria
Mumuye artists are famous for their wooden statues known as iagalagana. Even though the Mumuye show great respect for their ancestors, their statuary does not depict ancestors, but rather incarnates tutelary spirits. The statues reinforce the status and prestige of their owner who, as he holds them in his hands, has a dialogue with them and thus ensures his personal protection. The functions of sculptural figures are varied. They are used by both diviners and healers, whose professions included diagnosis and cure of ill health and other kinds of misfortunes. The figures were used to greet rainmaker's clients, guard the house, serve as owner's confidant, and in trials when men in dispute swear on the statue. It is not unusual for a figure simultaneously to serve two or more functions.
The figures vary in size from 20 centimeters to 1.6 meters, are highly abstracted, and may have added elements: beads, belts, bracelets, chains, leather laces, ropes or braided vegetable matter, brass wires, or cowrie shells. The statues' principal characteristic, unique in African art, is the creation of positive and negative space with a pattern of openwork between the body and the arms, which forms a scroll or a spiral around the slender, cylindrical torso. The heads may display a coiffure in the form of a crest. Scarification on face and body is delineated and nasal septum may be perforated for the insertion of a short section of a stalk of Guinea corn. A number of such sculptures have large ears with pierced and distended earlobes for the insertion of plugs.
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