Bassa female figure

The outsized seated woman is carved in naturalistic proportions, with powerful facial features and rare attention to limbs, which is quite rare in African art. The eyes are large and wide open, rendered in exceptional depth. The scarification on the face and the torso indicate that the figure represents a mature or initiated female.  Despite its femininity, the figure emanates a decidedly masculine presence that is almost menacing. The primary modes of expression in Bassa art are masks, whereas figures are rare and infrequently documented. What is known is that sculptures are reportedly carved to honor the favorite wife or other important family members or ancestors. These figures served to celebrate female fertility and beauty. They were hidden and as far as we know, not used in public village rituals. Personal in nature, each one has unique meaning and features.The three braids of the elaborate coiffure and the figure’s mouth are covered with a piece of cloth – probably indicating that they are filled with various ingredients that serve as amulets. This, together with the trace of pigment on the patina, indicates that the figure has been used in one or several rituals. This sculpture was recently purchased in Africa and dated as 90 years old. Therefore, it will remain an enigma for us whether it was used until recently, or rather carefully hidden all these years.

Reader Comments

  1. Anat

    This is beautiful! How big is it?

  2. Lialin

    An interesting piece! Please can you explain further about the markings across the figures face and abdomen?

  3. Num

    Why is her mouth open?


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