Masks and Figure Sculptures
SHRINE FIGURE ESU, AREOGUN, YORUBA, NIGERIA, 1952
Collection SMA African Art Museum, Gift of Fr. Sean O’Mahoney, 1999
Close examination of an African work of art from the point of view of art history and criticism can lead us in many interesting directions: philosophy and religion, social studies, economics, literature. This is a wooden shrine figure of Esu, the trickster god of the Yoruba people of Nigeria. He is one of a pantheon of gods and goddesses (orisa) which includes Ifa, god of divinations and healing, Ogun, god of iron and war and Sango, god of thunder and lightning. These and other Yoruba deities were brought to the New World by African immigrants, beginning with the slave trade.
Esu waits for the unwary at the crossroads of life – puberty, a new career, marriage, building a new house or moving from one place to another. If you err, you must make a sacrifice to the gods, who live on such offerings. Esu is not God, he is a pathway to God. Africans never represent God, who is all pervasive, male and female, and unknowable. The bird on Esu’s head is the messenger to heaven. The double gourds are a reference to Ifa and herbal medicine, an ancient and still current practice in Africa. The wide open eyes are a reference to cultic trance and communication with the world of spirit. The elaborately accoutered horse is a symbol of prestige. The club with an axe protruding from the human head is a reference to Ogun.
Masks and Figure Sculptures
KENTE CLOTH ADANUDO, EWE. GHANA
Collection SMA African Art Museum, Purchase from Eric D. Robertson African Arts, 2002
The Asanti of Ghana are famous for their colorful and elaborate kente cloth. Their neighbors, the Ewe, produce even more intricate cloths. Kente cloth is woven in strips a few inches wide. The strips are then sewn together to make a wrapper for a man or a woman. Kente cloths are very expensive and are worn by their owners only on special occasions as symbols of rank and prestige. This adanudo is over one hundred years old. It’s original owner, probably a chief, did not purchase it in the marketplace; he commissioned it from a master weaver. The designs in the center of the panels are inserted in the body of the weaving by hand, using supplementary weft threads. There are over two hundred such designs on this breathtaking old wrapper. It is one of the treasures in the Tenafly collections.
To Make an Appointment
The SMA African Art Museum (African Art Museum of the SMA Fathers) www.smafathers.org is located at 23 Bliss Avenue, Tenafly, New Jersey 07670 (201) 894-8611, Email firstname.lastname@example.org. It is open seven days a week, from 10 A.M. to 5 P.M., and is easily accessible from the Garden State Parkway, Route 80 and Route 4. The museum is located at the intersection of Engle Street and Bliss Avenue, one block north of East Hudson Avenue
A visit to the SMA African Art Museum includes a tour of the current exhibition as well as a hands-on examination of African masks, figure sculptures, costumes, jewelry, musical instruments, weapons, currency and a lot more from our permanent collections. The experience can be custom-designed for you and your students. It can take from 1 ½ to 2 ½ hours, depending on age level and may include preparation and follow up.
All school tours are with Robert J. Koenig, Director of the SMA African Art Museum. Mr. Koenig has taught for over forty years in public schools, universities, and museums. He has lectured widely on African art. The museum welcomes groups of all ages: pre-school, elementary, secondary, university, undergraduate and graduate, adult education and senior citizen. Children and adults with physical, emotional and intellectual disabilities are welcome.
Call Bob at (201) 894-8611 to make an appointment. The museum does not charge a fee; contributions are welcome.