left: Idoma Seated Female Figure, Africa Origin: Nigeria Circa: 19 th Century AD to 20th Century AD
right: Africa | Female figure “anjenu” from the Idoma people of Nigeria | Wood, polychrome paint
Idoma figures, Nigeria:
In 1985, François Neyt identified the Idoma’s “Ekotame and Anjenu sitting figures” as a pre-eminent corpus. (Neyt, 1985, p. 101-116). As part of the deeply ingrained tradition of female representation in the Benue region – maternity figures, women sitting and standing – they offer the most striking of its expressions in their extolment of strength and dignity combined.
Their archetypes fall into two major stylistic categories, each one a product of the complex history of the southern Idoma. The first is attributed by François Neyt to an Idoma-Egede workshop, the work of which is characterized by a coiffure made up of elongated chignons. The second is attributed to the Akewa group, which first introduced white painted faces in the region and whose canon is embodied in two very closely related pieces: the sitting figure kept at the musée du quai Branly (inv. No. 73.1996.1.46, cf. Nigéria, 2012, front cover), and the figure offered here. They both represent seated female figures on circular stools, their monumental aspect emphasized by the force of their expression and by their dignified pose, with hands on knees, back straight, breasts and navel projecting forward. The beauty of the female form is magnified by its rich adornments: the thin layer of kaolin clay covering the face, the crested coiffure, the intersecting scarification with its polychromatic enhancement, and the neck and ear ornaments.
Sidney Kasfir (RMN, 1997, p. 196) and Hélène Joubert (2000, n° 56) state that although it had previously been identified as an Anjenu figure of the water spirit cult, the sculpture from the musée du quai Branly (as well as the offered example) are more likely to be Ekotame (“breasted spirit”) figures, a powerful symbol of the lineage to which it granted protection and perpetuation. They were brought out – adorned with earrings, necklaces and loincloths – for important community celebrations or during funeral rites. This rare lineage figure was passed on from generation to generation and now stands out as one of the most archaic specimens of Idoma sculpture.