An important and rare Baga standing female figure, Republic of Guinea
height 35 1/2in
finely carved with large almond-shaped eyes, pointed triangular nose, full lips, identifiable Baga double-mark on each cheek below the eyes, ears with holes for earring attachment, large breasts and slightly raised stomach area at the navel signifying a married woman who has given birth; full buttocks, slightly bent legs at the knees and wearing sandals with large soles; finely braided coiffure highlighted with a high crest down the center; geometric and linear patterns intricately carved on her back, encircling the breasts and leading to what appear to be pouches on each hip; a raised "belt" around the waist, ringed incisions around the elongated neck; metal tacks inset around the face along the hair line around the face and on the back of the head.
René Rassmussen, Paris
Loudmere-Poulain, December 14, 1979, lot 6
Alain de Monbrison, Paris
Exhibited & Published:
Art of the Baga, The Museum for African Art, New York, September 1996-December 1998, (Baltimore Museum of Art, October 1996-April 1997)
Lamp, Frederick, The Museum for African Art, 1996.
cf. Lamp, figure 187 for a related example, "such figures were probably used on clan shrines, but their use ended so long ago that the people today have no recollection of it."
"The Baga never visit their neighbors, neither have they occasion to do so, for their own country produces abundance of everything requisite for the subsistence of any really temperate man. They cannot imagine that any nation is better off, and believe themselves superior in every respect to others." Rene Caillie, Travels through Central Africa, 1830.
"Certainly it was a function of Baga art to instill in their young people a sense of cultural magnificence that celebrated their ethnicity, validated the common ancestral will, and offered a defense against the encroachment of more powerful neighbors. Still, one wonders how such an imposing body of art comes to be produced by such a small and oppressed group of people." (Lamp, 1996, p. 23)
This exceptional and unique Baga figure embodies all the characteristics of Baga Art in elegance and style. Her type may have been a prototype for the more familiar, exceedingly large Nimba masks which display similar featureslarge breasts, braided coiffure with crest and linear patterns throughout the figure.
According to Frederick Lamp in his pivotal work, Art of the Baga, 1996, page 163, "The existence of free-standing male and female figures, and various staffs in the style of the D'mba headdress has misled some outside observers to conclude that this simply represents the universal northern Baga figurative schema. But the northern Baga normally have represented the human figure as naturalistically as the southern Baga. It seems that the huge, prognathous head with long, thin nose and peg mouth represents specifically the character of D'mba, of dual gender. The function of these figures and staffs is extremely obscure, leading me to believe that they held a more sacred and prohibited role than the D'mba headdress, and that perhaps the figural tradition, especially, is of even greater antiquity."
Lamp continues (page 169), "D'mba's flat, pendant breasts suggest a mother of some years, and reveal the selfless dedication with which she has nursed her infants. Her hair is intricately braided in parallel rows, and is embellished with a high crest down the center. Her face, neck and breasts are decorated with linear patterns...It is appropriate that the objects under consideration are representations of the quintessential woman. The female often stands in this region as a metaphor for the establishment of culture...Brass furniture tacks are placed along these lines to punctuate that linear order with the brilliance and clarity that song lyrics associate with the intelligent and spiritually guided mind. ...(ibid, page 180) As inventions of the Baga mind, D'mba and Zigiren-Wonde [like the work presented here] stand for the possibilities of a new state of being, the aspirations of insubordinate youth, and, in the face of chronic outside oppression, a remarkable Baga belief in the extraordinary affecting power of their own creative genius"