african masksBura
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A fine Eastern Pende Panya-Gombe African mask. Coll.: David Norden

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Bura Heads: Terra Cotta Sculpture from Africa

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In contrast to the more representational style of terra cotta sculptures created by their neighbors, Bura terra cottas are distinguished by a preference for abstraction and simplification.

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found at nmcah.org 

In the early years of the twentieth century, African masks and wood sculpture began to appear in the studios of French artists. History was in the making as African artifacts were recognized and appreciated as though for the first time and the course of Western art was dramatically changed. Picasso and Matisse, among others, were deeply influenced by African art as the proceeded to invent “Modern Art.” By the mid-twentieth century it was generally believed that most, if not all, important works of art from Africa were in European and American collections.


burabura heads


Africa is a huge continent, nearly three times the size of the United States, with a long and rich history. Some twenty-fives years ago, amidst the shifting sands of the Sahara, two terra cotta objects were exposed to the light of day. They were used as children’s play things until their significance as ancient artifacts began to become appreciated. Soon the Bura site in Niger was “discovered” and another face of African civilization was revealed.

Bura is located in southwestern Niger close to the Niger River, the banks and tributaries of which generated other first-millennium cultures, notably Nok, Sokoto, and Katsina from northern Nigeria. In contrast to the more representational style of terra cotta sculptures created by their neighbors, Bura terra cottas are distinguished by a preference for abstraction and simplification. Symbolically connected to an ancestor, Bura heads are rendered with just enough physiognomic information to indicate a human image. 

Though similar to one another, no two of these heads are identical. As schematic as the style may be, each head has an individuality born of the creative use of elements such as facial shape, tilt of the head, scarification, and hairstyle. 

Bura artists seemed to have derived great pleasure in achieving an identity with the least amount of clues. Because of the course taken by Western art, viewers of this fine exhibition will be reminded that the thrill of perception through minimalist means is as open to the contemporary viewer as it was to the people of the first-millennium Bura civilization. 

After these heads are viewed at some length don’t be surprised to find likenesses in people sitting in outdoor cafes, walking along the street or riding in buses.
© Philip Gould

 

Suggested Reading

Vallées du Niger Vallées du Niger
Auteur : Jean Devisse;, Paris: Editions de la Reunion des Musees Nationaux, 1993. Acheter neuf : EUR 65,17 (or through Amazon US: Vallées du Niger )

Cornevin, Marianne, “A la recherché du passé” in Arts d’Afrique, Paris: Gallimard Musee Dapper, 2000.  Secrets du continent noir révélés par l'archéologie

Borgatti, Jean M. and Richard Brilliant, Likeness and Beyond: Portraits From Africa and the World, New York City: Center for African Art, 1990. available from $6.00

Eléments d'archéologie ouest-africaineGado, Boube, Eléments d'archéologie ouest-africaine, IV Niger, Dara IRSH: Niamey, 2001.; Acheter neuf : EUR 8,55

 

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David Norden


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In this section:
Start
Omhoog
Nigeria
Ijo
Daima-Sao
Nok
Yoruba-Ife
Edo-Benin
Dogon
Mali-Map
Fon
Urhobo
Djenne-Mopti
Dogon-Tellem
Senufo
Dowayos
Bura
Darfur
Timbuktu Manuscripts 

African art books

The Tribal Arts of Africa

The Tribal Arts of Africa
Author: Jean-Baptiste Bacquart

more African Art books I like


read also : Start ] Nigeria ] Ijo ] Daima-Sao ] Nok ] Yoruba-Ife ] Edo-Benin ] Dogon ] Mali-Map ] Fon ] Urhobo ] Djenne-Mopti ] Dogon-Tellem ] Senufo ] Dowayos ] [ Bura ] Darfur ] Timbuktu Manuscripts ]

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