Large Hemba Sculpture


20th Century AD


55.5″ (141.0cm) high x 11″ (27.9cm) wide x 10.5″ (26.7cm) depth





Gallery Location

S Korea


The Hemba people of Gabon and Zaire are a large group characterized artistically by ancestor figures, masks and a wide range of decorated utilitarian objects such as stools, thrones and tools. Probably their most characteristic cultural faces is that of the ancestor – large headed, long-necked, delicately- featured male or female forms with ornate coiffures and serene expressions, which were kept in domestic or centralized locales and worshipped through prayer and also through the offering of libations. Standing almost five feet tall, the current piece is a remarkable example of the Hemba’s dynamic adaptability to new circumstances. While many traditions associated with the Hemba have disappeared, therefore, other persist, including acutely sensitive stylistic and artistic skills. The present piece is a fusion of traditional iconography with modern twists, such as the unusually large size of the figure, the necklace of 12 large wooden beads, and even the fact that the figure is clearly circumcised (this tradition is not immediately apparent from examination of earlier pieces). The sculpture is notable for the delicacy of its carving, especially of the face, and also for the detailing of the two face-bearing beads on the necklace. This is a beautifully-executed sculpture, and an excellent focus for any domestic setting.

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