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Valente Malangatana Ngwenya (Ngwenya means crocodile)born on June 6th 1936, Malangatana grew

up in a village called Matalana, located about 30 km north of Maputo, Mozambiques capital. He helped
his mother, who was a traditional healer, on her farm while attending first Swiss Protestant and then
Roman Catholic mission schools. His father, like many men from the countrys southern region, was
often absent as he was away working in the gold mines of South Africa. While growing up in Matalana
he worked herding cattle and studied traditional healing from two of his uncles.during this time in
Malatana , Malangatana was not yet practising art and was lke any other village boy living in the

At the age of 12, Malangatana moved to the capital to find work. At that time, the capital, now called
Maputo, was called Loureno Marques by the Portuguese colonial authorities. Marques was a
Portuguese trader and explorer who settled in Mozambique. The capital was renamed Maputo, after the
Maputo River, during independence in 1976. He first found work as a nanny, then, in 1953, Malangatana
found work as a ball boy at a tennis club. It was here that he met Augusto Cabral and Pancho Guedes,
both members of the tennis club, who would help to introduce him to Maputos artistic community and
support his education as an artist. As Joe Pollitt recounts how Cabral met Malangatana.

Malangatana asked Cabral, one of the tennis club's members, whether he had a pair of old sandals he
could spare. The young biologist ( and amateur painter) took him home. Malangatana asked to be
taught painting, and Cabral gave him equipment and the advice to paint whatever was in his head.
Putting aside his teenage training as a traditional healer, Malangatana did just that, encouraged by
Cabral and the prolific Portuguese-born architect Pancho Guedes, another tennis club member.
Malangatana would obtain his subjects from imagination and most of these were heads which were
presentd in abstract form clustered on the same people. They seemed too spiritual to be traditional.
This might have been inspired ny the notion that his mother was a traditional healer.
Early themes in Malangatanas work drew upon his childhood upbringing in rural Mozambique. As a
curatorial text points out, folklore, mythology, religion and family life provided the inspiration for much
of his art during this period. Surely his mothers vocation as a tooth sharpener, a practice familiar to
societies as far apart as Aboriginal Australia, China, Indonesia (Bali) and Vietnam, and central to fashion,
social ritual and spirituality in about as many diverse settings worldwide, would have left its mark
on Malangatanas formative years.
Theres no denying either that the boy artists encounters with European colonialism fed into a
maturing of consciousness that led to political confrontations and conflict that put his personal well-
being in peril. That experience also produced art with more than a dash of social comment, indeed it
signalled his foray into full-scale political activism. Malangatanas brush with the Portuguese secret
police while Portugal and its colonies toiled under dictatorship in Lisbon also influenced his work.

With time Malangatanas work showed inspiration which rose from feel of the countryside filled with
emotion too, such as a group of people with sad or happy faces. Some of the work was of nude women
in a group in preparation of a traditional ceremony or a dance festival. Most of Malangatanas work
would be like that. For execution of many subjects in a single work , it was not a hustle for Malangatana
as he had his own unique style in the development some facial features of the portraits he produced.
This also makes his work authentic and easy to identify if not labelled for the credit of the artist.

Years later in 1981, when Cabral had become the director of the Natural History Museum in Maputo, he
would give Malangatana a commission to create a mural in its gardens. Joe Pollitt describes the mural as
follows: In a celebration of the unity of humankind and the often brutal world of nature, the work
depicts wide-eyed figures in earth-coloured pastels, with extended limbs and claw-like hands.
Malangatana began to attend events organized by Nucleo de Arte. In 1959, he exhibited publicly for the
first time as part of a group show organized by Nucleo. Alda Costa describes the formation of the Nucleo
de Arte as follows:

In 1936, some of these individuals were involved in the creation of the Ncleo de Arte da Colnia de
Moambique, which was set up in the city of Loureno Marques with the aim of spreading aesthetic
education and promoting the progress of art in the colony. According to the associations statutes, its
job was to organise art courses, put on art exhibitions, create an art museum (with an indigenous art
section), and organise visits by artists from Portugal, who could create works of art in the colony
inspired by local subjects. It was also its job to organise art exhibitions dealing with Mozambican
subjects in Portugal and contribute, in every possible way, to the artistic exchange between
Mozambique and the metrpole. Its sections included: Architecture, Fine and Decorative Arts; Music
and Choreography; Theatre; Literature and History of Art; Indigenous Art and Ethnography and also
Propaganda and Publicity. In the event of a situation not being covered by the associations statutes, the
statutes of the metroples Sociedade Nacional de Belas Artes (Portuguese Fine Arts Society) would
apply. The creation of the Ncleo de Arte was clearly the embodiment of imperial thinking and of the
attempt to build closer relations between Portugal and its colonies, as were the large-scale propaganda
campaigns carried out at the time. Its actions and importance in the colony, however, spread far beyond
those interests

In 1961, at the age of 25, he had his first solo exhibition. According to Joe Pollitt, writing Malangatanas
obituary in The Guardian:

He courageously presented his ambitious Juzo Final (Final Judgment), a commentary on life under
oppressive Portuguese rule. Mystical figures of many colours, including a black priest dressed in white,
evoke a vision of hell. Some of the figures have sharp white fangs, a recurring motif in Malangatanas
work, symbolising the ugliness of human savagery.
Malangatana also wrote poetry. In 1963, some of his poetry was included in the journal Black Orpheus
and was included in the anthology Modern Poetry from Africa.
In 1964, Malangatana joined the struggle for Mozambican independence by becoming a member of the
Liberation Front of Mozambique (FRELIMO). For his involvement, he was arrested by the Portuguese
secret police (PIDE) and spent 18 months in jail. One of his fellow prisoners was Mozambiques leading
poet, Jos Craveirinha.
In 1971, he received a grant from the Lisbon-based Gulbenkian Foundation (created by the Armenian oil
magnate and art collector Calouste Gulbenkian, who played a key role in making the Middle Easts oil
reserves available to the Western world) and went to Portugal to study printmaking and ceramics. His
art reached an international audience and he had exhibitions in Lisbon. Three years later, he returned to
Mozambique. The Carnation Revolution of April 1974, the military coup in Portugal that forced its
government from a dictatorship to a democracy, accelerated Mozambiques independence. He rejoined
FRELIMO, which had developed from a guerrilla movement into a single-party Communist organization
aimed at becoming the new ruling political power. However, a rival political party, the Mozambique
Resistance Movement (RENAMO), supported by Rhodesia (Zimbabwe) and South Africa, came into
conflict with FRELIMO, and a devastating civil war ensues costing the country about a million lives, as
people died in combat, from starvation. About five million people were displaced. Many were made
amputees by landmines, which are still a problem even after the civil war ended in 1992.
From 1981, he was able to work full-time as an artist, and the following year Augusto Cabral, director of
the Natural History Museum in Maputo, commissioned him to create a mural in its gardens. In a
celebration of the unity of humankind and the often brutal world of nature, the work depicts wide-eyed
figures in earth-coloured pastels, with extended limbs and claw-like hands.

Malangatana was active in FRELIMO during this period but he also continued his work as an artist. His
work during this time is a reflection on the horrors of the civil war. According to art critic Holland Cotter
in his obituary for Malangatana:
Most of the paintings and drawings Mr. Ngwenya did during this period were a direct response to the
violence he witnessed. Densely packed with figures, they presented lurid, Boschian visions of the Last
Judgment and the torments of hell rooted in images related to healing and witchcraft remembered from
childhood. It was only after peace was finally declared in 1992 that the content and the look of his work
changed: he introduced landscape images and cooled a palette dominated by charred reds and stained
whites with greens and blues.

In 1997 he was named a UNESCO Artist for Peace and received a Prince Claus Award.

He is survived by his wife, Sinkwenta Gelita Mhangwana, two daughters, and two sons.

According to Guardian journalist Duncan Campbell, who met Malangatana in 2005:

While on an assignment for the Guardian in Mozambique in 2005, I was fortunate enough to be
introduced to Malangatana, who was then living in a large house near the airport which was part gallery
and part archive. I had already been shown some of his work, which was not only in public galleries in
Maputo, but also widely used for book covers and CDs. What was remarkable about him was that he
brushed off questions about his own work and insisted instead on taking us on a magical conducted tour
of local artists from painter to sculptor to batik-maker. He was anxious that they should receive publicity
rather than him. For their part, they clearly held him in high esteem. He is my general, one of the
young artists told me.
Malangatanas paintings are interpretations of a way of life in which mysticism and fantasy play a large
functional role as some researchers mentioned. Although there is a temptation to call his paintings
Surrealists, his vision in for him straightforward and real, unlike the intellectual game that it is for many
sophisticated European Surrealist painters

As an artist Malangatana has been renowned for his public art, with murals and
large panels adorning various cities and institutions in addition to Maputo. He
has exhibited in over 100 cities on four continents, and his paintings, drawings,
watercolours, prints, ceramics, tapestry and sculpture can be found in museums,
galleries and private collections all over the world.

Career highlights:

1961 First solo exhibition in Loureno Marques, Mozambique
1963 - First joint exhibition in London, UK (ICA)
1964 - Solo exhibition of drawings at the UN headquarters in New York
1969 - Joint exhibition in London , UK (Camden Arts Centre)
1970 - Joint exhibition, Muse de lHomme, Paris, France
1974 - Joint exhibition Contemporary African Art, Museum of African Art, Washington,
1977 - Joint exhibition at II Festival of Black and African Arts, Lagos & Kaduna, Nigeria
1984 - Joint exhibition Artists of the World against Apartheid begins 2-year European
tour journeopeEurope
1986 - 50th birthday retrospective in Maputo; a small-scale version later exhibited in
Germany, Austria, Bulgaria, Portugal, Sweden and Italy
1989 - Major iron and cement sculpture (25m high) completed in Mozambique, later designated by
UNESCO as World Heritage; solo exhibition at Greenwich Citizens Gallery,
1992 - Collective exhibition Africa Explores travels through the USA and Europe for 4
1993 - Mural for the Africa Pavilion at Expo 92 in Seville, Spain
1996 - Joint exhibitions in Termoli (Italy), Finland and Copenhagen (Container 96)
1997 - Mural for UNESCO HQ in Paris
2001 - Participation in Century City: Art and Culture in the Modern Metropolis, Tate
Modern, London; Encounters with the Contemporary, National Museum of African Art,
Washington DC; and The Short Century: Independence and Liberation Movements in
Africa, Museum of Contemporary Art, Chicago, P.S.1, New York, Villa Stuck, Munich, the
Martin-Gropius-Bau, Berlin.
2008 Individual exhibition, Vivncias Galeria Valbom, Lisbon, Portugal
2008-2009 Joint travelling exhibition, Lusofonies/Lusofonias Dakar, Senegal;
Maputo, Moambique; Luanda, Angola; S. Vicente, Cape Verde; Lisbon, Portugal.

Museums and collections

Malangatana is represented in many museums and galleries, including:

-The National Museum of African Art, Washington DC, USA
-The National Gallery of Contemporary Art, New Delhi, India
-The Contemporary Art Museum, Lisbon, Portugal
-The Mbari of Oshogbo, Nigeria
-The National Art Gallery, Harare, Zimbabwe
-The Modern Art Centre, Gulbenkian Foundation, Lisbon, Portugal
-The Robben IslandMayibuye Archives collection of artworks, South Africa

Main prizes and honours

1959 - Honourable Mention, I Art Competition, Loureno Marques, Mozambique
1970 - Diploma and Silver Medal as member Honoris Causa of the Tomase Campanella
Academy of Arts and Sciences, Italy
1984 - Nachingwea Medal, for his contribution to Mozambican culture, Mozambique
1990 - International Association of Art Critics Prize, France
1990 - Order of the Southern Cross, Brazil
1995 - Officer of the Order of Infante D. Henrique, Portugal
1997 - Prince Klaus Prize, Holland
1997 - UNESCO Artist for Peace
2006 Eduardo Mondlane Order, First Class, Mozambique
2007 Commander of the Order of Arts and Letters, France
2010 - Honorary Doctorate, University of Evora, Portugal






Betty Schneider,"Malangatana of Mozambique," African Arts 5 no. 2 (Winter 1972),
Ferreira, A. F. (2008) Obras Pblicas em Moambique. Lisbon: Edies Universitrias Lusfonas.
Identification : Ngwenya Malangatana Valente, Dsir Rasolofoson, Khalid Nazroo, Kivuthi
Mbuno, John Sampson, Sandile Zulu, Alain, Nol,Collection "D'autres terres en vue"Volume 4 of
D'autres terres en vue, Le Sud. FRAC, 1996 ISBN 2911227018, 9782911227011
Jorge Dias and Margot Dias,(1996) A Arte Popular em Portugal, Ilhas Adjacentes e Ultramar
Jlio Navarro.(2003)Malangatana Valente Ngwenya.Mkuki na Nyota.The University of Michigan
Jlio Navarro. (org.) (1998). Malangatana. Maputo: Editorial Ndjira.
Malangatana, (February 1989), ''Positive Fire," New Internationalist 192
Sidney Littlefield Kasfir,(1999) Contemporary African Art, Thames Hudson
Ulli Beier. In Guedes, P. (org.) (2009) Pancho Guedes. Vitruvius Mozambicanus. Lisbon: Museu
Coleco Berardo
Zachary Kingdon, A Host of Devils: The History and Context of the Making of Makonde Spirit
Sculpture(London and New York: Routledge Harwood Anthropology,2002) .

The Yoruba of South Western Africa (Benin Republic, Nigeria and Togo, also including parts of Ghana, Cameroon
and Sierra Leone) are responsible for one of the oldest and finest artistic traditions in Africa, a tradition that
remains vital and influential today.

Much of the art of the Yoruba, including staffs, court dress, and beadwork for crowns, is associated with the royal
courts. The courts also commissioned numerous architectural objects such as veranda posts, gates, and doors that
are embellished with carvings. Other Yoruba art is related shrines and masking traditions. The Yoruba worship a
large pantheon of deities, and shrines dedicated to these gods are adorned with carvings and house and array of
altar figures and other ritual paraphernalia. Masking traditions vary regionally, and a wide range of mask types are
employed in various festivals and celebrations
Yoruba bronze head sculpture, Ife, Nigeria c. 12th century A.D.

Abundant natural resources enabled the Yoruba to develop one of the most complex cultures in sub-Saharan
Africa. By the beginning of the second millennium CE, Ile-Ife, their most sacred city, had become a major urban
center with highly sophisticated religious, social, and political institutions.

By AD 1100 the artists at Ife had developed a refined and naturalistic sculptural tradition in terracotta and stone
that was soon followed by works in copper, brass, and bronze. The dynasty of kings at Ife, which regarded the
Yoruba as the place of origin of human civilization, remains intact to this day.

There have been a series of Yoruba kingdoms over the past nine centuries. The Oyo was one of the earliest of
these; the Owa kingdom in the southwest maintained close ties to Ife and also experienced the artistic and cultural
influence of Benin between the fifteenth and nineteenth centuries. Owa artists supplied fine ivory work to the
court at Benin and Owa royalty adapted and transformed many Benin institutions and the regalia of leadership.

Yoruba kingdoms prospered until the slave trade and warfare of the nineteenth century took their toll. One of the
effects of this devastation was the dispersal of millions of Yoruba all over the world. This resulted in a strong
Yoruba character in the artistic, religious and social lives of Africans in the New World.
Art and Life in Yoruba culture
The custom of art and artists among the Yoruba is deeply rooted in the If literary corpus, indicating the orishas
Ogun, Obatala, Oshun and Obalufon as central to creation mythology including artistry (i.e. the art of humanity).

In order to fully understand the centrality of art (on) in Yoruba thought, one must be aware of their cosmology,
which traces the origin of existence (w) to a Supreme Divinity called Oldmar, the generator of ase, the
enabling power that sustains and transforms the universe. To the Yoruba, art began when Oldmar
commissioned the artist deity Obatala to mold the first human image from clay. Today, it is customary for the
Yoruba to wish pregnant women good luck with the greeting: May Obatala fashion for us a good work of art.

The concept of ase influences how many of the Yoruba arts are composed. In the visual arts, a design may be
segmented or seriate- a "discontinuous aggregate in which the units of the whole are discrete and share equal
value with the other units."Such elements can be seen in Ifa trays and bowls, veranda posts, carved doors, and
ancestral masks.

The importance of the head in Yoruba sculpture
The Yoruba people regard the human head (ori) as the most important part of a person. Likewise, the head is the
most prominent part of Yoruba sculpture. An analysis of Yoruba ontology reveals that the Yoruba regard the head
as the locus of the ase of Olodumare. Therefore, the head constitutes a person's life-source and controlling
personality and destiny. Babatunde Lawal identifies three different modes of representing the head in Yoruba
sculpture: "the naturalistic, which refers to the external, or physical head (ori ode); the stylized, which hints at the
inner, or spiritual, head (ori inu); and the abstract, which symbolizes the primeval material (oke ipori) of which the
inner head was made.
The issue of anonymity and authorship has long troubled the field of African art history, particularly as it
relates to the political disparities between Africa and the West. Such information was, at least initially,
rarely sought in the field and deemed unnecessary and even undesirable by many collectors. Susan
Vogel has identified a further paradox. In their own societies," Vogel writes, "African artists are known and
even famous, but their names are rarely preserved in connection with specific works... More often than
not, the African sculptor becomes virtually irrelevant to the life of the art object once his work is
complete... Cultures preserve the information they value."
The problem of anonymity in Yoruba art in particular is troubling in the context of Yoruba culture where "it
is absolutely imperative for individuals to acknowledge each other's identity and presence from moment to
moment, there is a special greeting for every occasion and each time of day."

Metal arts
Yoruban blacksmiths create sculpture from iron, through hand-beating, welding, and casting. Ogun is honored as
the god of iron.

Metalworkers also create brass sculptures by lost-wax casting. Brass is seen as being incorruptible by the Ogboni
Ife head, terracotta, probably 1214th centuries
Bronze head from Ife

Ife Sculpture of Warrior Riding a Beast

Mythic origin of Ife, the holy city: Creation of the world
The Yoruba claim to have originated in Ife. According to their mythology, Olodumare, the Supreme God, ordered
Obatala to create the earth but on his way he found palm wine, drank it and became intoxicated. Therefore the
younger brother of the latter, Oduduwa, took the three items of creation from him, climbed down from the
heavens on a chain and threw a handful of earth on the primordial ocean, then put a cockerel on it so that it would
scatter the earth, thus creating the land on which Ile Ife would be built. Oduduwa planted a palm nut in a hole in
the newly formed land and from there sprang a great tree with sixteen branches, a symbolic representation of the
clans of the early Ife city-state. The usurpation of creation by Oduduwa gave rise to the ever lasting conflict
between him and his elder brother Obatala, which is still re-enacted in the modern era by the cult groups of the
two clans during the Itapa New Year festival. On account of his creation of the world Oduduwa became the
ancestor of the first divine king of the Yoruba, while Obatala is believed to have created the first humans out of
clay. The meaning of the word "ife" in Yoruba is "expansion"; "Ile-Ife" is therefore in reference to the myth of
origin "The Land of Expansion". Due to this fact, the city is commonly regarded as the cradle of not just the Yoruba
culture, but all of humanity as well, especially by the followers of the Yoruba faith.

Origin of the regional states: Dispersal from the holy city, Ife
Oduduwa had sons, daughters and a grandson who went on to found their own kingdoms and empires, namely Ila
Orangun, Owu, Ketu, Sabe, Popo, Oyo and Benin. Oranmiyan, Oduduwa's last born, was one of his father's
principal ministers and overseer of the nascent Edo empire after Oduduwa granted the plea of the Edo people for
his governance. When Oranmiyan decided to go back to Ile Ife after a period of service in Benin, he left behind a
child named Eweka that he had in the interim with an indigenous princess. The young boy went on to become the
first legitimate ruler of the second Edo dynasty that has ruled what is now Benin from that day to this. Oranmiyan
later went on to found the Oyo empire that stretched at its height from the western banks of the river Niger to the
Eastern banks of the river Volta. It would serve as one of the most powerful of Africa's medieval states prior to its
collapse in the 19th century.

Traditional setting
The King (Ooni)
The Oni (or king) of Ife claims direct descent from Oduduwa, and is counted first among the Yoruba kings. He is
traditionally considered the 401st deity (rsh), the only one that speaks. In fact, the royal dynasty of Ife traces its
origin back to the founding of the city more than two thousand years ago. The present ruler is Alayeluwa Oba
Okunade Sijuwade, Olubuse II, styled His Imperial Majesty by his subjects. The Ooni ascended his throne in 1980.
Following the formation of the Yoruba Orisha Congress in 1986, the Ooni acquired an international status the likes
of which the holders of his title hadn't had since the city's colonisation by the British. Nationally he had always
been prominent amongst the Federal Republic of Nigeria's company of royal Obas, being regarded as the chief
priest and custodian of the holy city of all the Yorubas. In former times, the palace of the Oni of Ife was a structure
built of authentic enameled bricks, decorated with artistic porcelain tiles and all sorts of ornaments.

Cults for the deities
Ife is well known as the city of 401 or 201 deities. It is said that every day of the year the traditional worshippers
celebrate a festival of one of these deities. Often the festivals extend over more than one day and they involve
both priestly activities in the palace and theatrical dramatisations in the rest of the kingdom. The most spectacular
festivals demand the King's participation. These include the Itapa festival for Obatala and Obameri, the Edi festival
for Moremi Ajasoro, and the Igare masqueraders, and the Olojo festival for Ogoun.[7] During the festivals and at
other occasions the traditional priests offer prayers for the blessing of their own cult-group, the city of Ile Ife, the
Nigerian nation and the whole world.

Art history

Bronze Head from Ife, probably a king and dated around 12th Century, in the British Museum.
Important people were often depicted with large heads because the artists believed that the Ase was held in the
head, the Ase being the inner power and energy of a person. Their rulers were also often depicted with their
mouths covered so that the power of their speech would not be too great. They did not idealize individual people,
but they tended rather to idealize the office of the king.

The city was a settlement of substantial size between the 9th and 12th centuries, with houses featuring potsherd
pavements. Il-If is known worldwide for its ancient and naturalistic bronze, stone and terracotta sculptures,
which reached their peak of artistic expression between 1200 and 1400 A.D. After this period, production declined
as political and economic power shifted to the nearby kingdom of Benin which, like the Yoruba kingdom of Oyo,
developed into a major empire.

Bronze and terracotta art created by this civilization are significant examples of realism in pre-colonial African art.

In his book, "The Oral Traditions in Ile-Ife," Yemi D. Prince referred to the terracotta artists of 900 A.D. as the
founders of Art Guilds, cultural schools of philosophy, which today can be likened to many of Europe's old
institutions of learning that were originally established as religious bodies. These guilds may well be some of the
oldest non-Abrahamic African centres of learning to remain as viable entities in the contemporary world.

The modern town
Today a mid-sized city, Ife is home to both the Obafemi Awolowo University and the Natural History Museum of
Nigeria. Its people are of the Yoruba ethnic group, one of the largest ethnolinguistic groups in Africa and its
diaspora (The population of the Yoruba outside of their homeland is said to be more than the population of Yoruba
in Nigeria, about 35 million).[citation needed] Ife has a local television station called NTA Ife, and is home to
various businesses. It is also the trade center for a farming region where yams, cassava, grain, cacao, and tobacco
are grown. Cotton is also produced, and is used to weave cloth. Hotels in Il-Ife include Cameroon Hotel, Hotel
Diganga Ife-Ibadan road, Mayfair Hotel, Obafemi Awolowo University Guest House etc. Il-Ife has a stadium with a
capacity of 9,000 and a second division professional league football team.
Political History and art at ancient ife What or whom do these early arts depict? Many of the ancient Ife sculptures
are identified today with individuals who lived in the era in which Ife King Obalufon II was on the throne and/ or
participated in the civil war associated with his reign. This and other evidence suggests that Obalufon II was a key
sponsor or patron of these ancient arts, an idea consistent with this kings modern identity as patron deity of
bronze casting, textiles, regalia, peace, and wellbeing. It also is possible that a majority of the ancient Ife arts were
created in conjunction with the famous truce that Obalufon II is said to have brokered once he returned to power
between the embattled Ife citizens as he brought peace to this long embattled city (Adediran 1992:91; Akintitan
p.c.). As part of his plan to reunite the feuding parties, Obalufon II also is credited with the creation of a new city
plan with a large, high-walled palace at its center. Around the perimeters, the compounds of key chiefs from the
once feuding lineages were positioned. King Obalufon II seems at the same time to have pressed for the erection
of new temples in the city and the refur- bishment of older ones, these serving in part to honor the lead- ing chiefs
on both sides of the dispute. Ifes ancient art works likely functioned as related temple furnishings. One
particularly art-rich shrine complex that may have come into new prominence as part of Obalufon IIs truce is that
hon- oring the ancient hunter Ore, a deity whose name also features in one of Obalufons praise names. Ore is
identified both as an
important autochthonous Ife resident and as an opponent to Odudua. A number of remarkable granite figures in
the Ore Grove were the focus of ceremonies into the mid-twentieth cen- tury. One of these works called Olofefura
is believed to represent the deified Ore (Dennett 1910:21; Talbot 1926 2:339; Allison 1968:13).
Five features of the sculpture suggest a dwarf or sufferer of a congenital
disorder in keeping with the identity of many first (Obatala) dynasty shrine figures with body anoma-lies or

Regalia details also offer clues. A three-strand choker encircles Olofefuras neck; three bracelet coils embellish the
wrist; three tassels hang from the left hip knot. These features link this workand Oreto the earth,
autochthony, and to the Ogboni association, a group promoted by Obalufon II in part to preserve the rights of
autochthonous residents. The left hip knot shown on the wrapper of this work, as well as that of the taller, more
elegant Ore Grove priest or servant figure , also recalls one of Ifes little-known origin myths within the Obatala
priestly family (Akintitan p.c.). According to this myth, Obatala hid the ase (vital force) necessary for Earths solidity
within this knot, requiring his younger brother Odudua, after his theft of materials from Obatala, to wait for the
latters help in completing the task. Consistent with this, Ogboni mem- bers are said to tie their cloth wrappers on
the left hip in mem- ory of Obatalas use of this knot to safeguard the requisite ase (Owakinyin p.c.). Iron inserts in
the coiffure of the taller Ore fig- ure complement those secured in the surface of the Oranmiyan staff, indicating
that this sculpturelike many ancient Ife works of stonewere made in the same era, e.g. the early fourteenth
century. An additional noteworthy feature of these figures, and others, is the importance of body proportion
ratios. Among the Yoruba today, the body is seen to comprise three principal parts: head, trunk, and legs (Ajibade
n.d.:3). Many Ife sculptural examples emphasize a larger-than- life size scale of the head (or) in relationship to the
rest of the body (a roughly 1:4 ratio). Yoruba scholars have seen this head- privileging ratio as reinforcing the
importance of this body part as a symbol of ego and destiny (or), personality (w), essential nature (w), and
authority (se) (Abimbola 1975:390ff, Abiodun 1994, Abiodun et. al 1991:12ff).6 Or as Ogunremi suggests
(1998:113), such features highlight: The wealth or poverty of the nation *as+ equated with the head (or) of the
ruler of a particular locality.
A striking group of life-size copper and copper alloy heads was unearthed in the 1930s at the Wunmonije site
behind the Ife palace along with the above-discussed king figure (Fig. 15).23 In addition to the original corpus of
fifteen life-size heads from this site, a clearly related 4.25 inch high fragment of a copper alloy head consisting of a
portion of a face showing a nose and part of a mouth also was collected at an estate in Ado- Ekiti and has been
described as identical with those from Wun- monije (Werner and Willett 1975: facing p. 142).

These sixteen life-size heads appear to have been created as part of the truce that Obalufon II established between
the embattled Ife residents. One of the heads above indeed is so similar to the Obalufon mask as to depict the
same individual.24 Frank Willett, who published photographs of many of the life-size metal heads in his
monograph on Ife, suggests (1967:2628) that these works had important royal mortuary functions in which each
was dis- played with a crown and robes of office, in the course of ceremo- nies following each rulers death.25
Willett proposes further that the heads were commissioned as memorial sculptures (ako) con- sistent with a later
era Ife and Yoruba tradition of carved wooden ako effigy figures used in commemorating deceased hunters. This
theory, which identifies the corpus of life-size cast heads as effigies of successive rulers of the Ife city state,
however, is premised on an idea (now largely discredited; see also Lawal 2005:503ff.) that the works were made
by artists over a several-hundred-year period (the reigns of sixteen monarchs). This theory is problematic not only
because the styles and material features of the heads are con- sistent, but also because the heads were found
together (divided into two groups) and share a remarkably similar condition apart from blows that some of them
received during their discovery. The shared condition indicates that they were interred for a similar length of time
and under similar circumstances. The formal similarities in these heads have led most scholars, myself included
(Blier 1985), to argue that the works were cre- ated in a short period of time and by fewer than a handful of art-
ists.With respect to style, as Thurstan Shaw notes (1978:134), they are of a piece and look like the work of one
generation, even perhaps a single great artist. These heads, I posited in this same article, were cast in part to
serve as sacred crown supports and used during coronation rituals for a group of powerful Ife chiefs who head the
various core first and second dynasty lineages in the city. These rites appear also to have been associated with
Obalu- fon since related priests have a role in Ife coronations still today.
The site where the heads were found today is identified as Obalu- fon IIs burial site (Eyo 1976:n.p.). Ife Chief
Obalara (Obalufon IIs descendant and priest) crowns each new monarch at a Obalufon shrine (Igbo Obalara) near
the Obatala temple a short distance from here (Verger 1957:439, Fabunmi 1969:10, Eluyemi 1977:41). Today,
when a descendant of King Obalufon wishes to commis- sion shrine arts in conjunction with his worship, two
copper alloy heads, one plain faced, the other with vertical line facial markings, are created (Oluyemi p.c.).

Some of these ancient Ife life-size heads have plain faces. Others show vertical lines. These facial marking variables
support the likely use of these heads in coronations and other rites associated with the powerful early Ife first- and
second-dynasty-linked chiefs who were brought together as part of Obalufon IIs truce. The grouping of these
heads, which in many ways also resemble the Obalufon mask , together reference (and honor) the leaders of key
families (now seen as orisa or gods) who had participated in this conflict. Obalufon II also created a new city plan
as part of this truce, one in which the homesteads of these lineage leaders were relocated to sites circumscribing
the center of Ife and its palace (Blier 2012). In the eighteenthnineteenth centuries, when the city came under
attack, the heads appear to have been buried for safe keeping near their original shrine locale after many centuries
of use and their location eventually forgotten. There are several ways that the heads could have been dis- played
in early Ife ritual contexts, among these earthen step- form altars and tall supports similar to one photographed
with heads in Benin in the late nineteenth century . The latter staff would account for the presence of holes near
the bases of these works. Wooden mounts such as those known today here as ako were fashioned to
commemorate Ife elephant hunters. These also could have been used for display purposes. A perhaps related
Ijebu-Ode known as okute and discussed by Ogunba (1964:251) features roughly 4-foot wooden staffs with a
symbolic human head. These pole-like forms were secured in the ground and dressed during annual rites
commemorating early (first dynasty) rulers of the region.
Ancient Ife art works, as we have seen, are works not only of great visual power, striking beauty, and rare technical
accom- plishment, but also objects that speak to core issues of history and politics in this early center. As such
these sculptures offer unique and critical insight into the social fabric of the city. Look- ing at the complex visual
codes of these remarkable objects through details of body form and proportion, gesture, facial marking, material
properties, regalia form, animal symbolism, site locations, oral history, mapping and traveler accounts, as well as
modern day Ife beliefs and rituals about this center and its arts allows us to see these ancient Ife works as a vital
part of the citys early history. The artists of these works clearly were interested in the sculptural meanings being
known, and through an in-depth analysis of the variant symbolic formula at play, we now have a much better
understanding of both this important early city and its arts.


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