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Title: West African art from the Rosenbloom Collection
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Title: West African art from the Rosenbloom Collection
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Presented by The Department of Art and The African Studies Center


The materials of which these objects are made may seem peculiar for
objects in an art exhibition. Such materials as skin and hair, nails, cowrie
shells and beads are not what one ordinarily thinks of in this connection.
Absent are the more traditional Western materials of marble and bronze.
This mixture of seemingly disparate materials highlights an important
aspect of African art: the ritual designation of the object. These objects
were not made merely to be viewed, but to be used in conjunction with and
as an important part of various rituals. The objects, therefore, are not
static, and their symbolic context, indeed sometimes the entire meaning of
the object, can change as the object is used in different contexts. Instead of
existing in an isolated space separated from the viewer on a pedestal (both
figuratively and literally), these objects may be said to be incomplete until
they have been put into use. Therefore, the conglomerations of which
these objects are made is significant in relation to their usage. The variety of
materials allows the objects to draw upon various levels of metaphor which
comprise their total meaning. Distinct everyday objects which go into the
manufacture of a mask, figure, stool or drum may function on several sym-
bolic levels at the same time. A cowrie shell, for example, may be used to
denote an eye, or may be used as a symbol of fertility (because of its meta-
phorical association with the female genitalia), or a cowrie shell may in
certain contexts be used as a pictorially decorative object. In other words,
a common object, when it is incorporated into a piece of sculpture, retains
some of its original integrity and at the same time becomes metaphorically
absorbed into the image of which it forms a part. It is part of the literal
integration of "life" with "art". In certain cases the actual physical act of
implantation of metal into a wooden figure is an important part of the ritual
function of the object, as with the Nkonde figures of the Bakongo tribe.
The attachment of various substances to a piece of sculpture is often part
of the overall integration of the object with the ritual in which it is used,
and of that ritual to the context of controlling or addressing the abstract
spiritual forces in relation to which the ritual itself functions.
The objects in this exhibition, although from a geographically limited
part of Africa, provide a good sample of the vocabulary of types of African
forms. These major types may be broken down into ancestor figures, fetish
figures, masks, stools and drums. Of these kinds of objects, the first three
are what in Western terms would be considered non-utilitarian and the
latter two, utilitarian. It is important to keep in mind, however, that al-
though these objects are in fact subject to different degrees of "utilitarian"
potential, all of them are primarily utilitarian in that they are meant to be
actually used. The ancestor figure, usually a symbolic point of intersection
between the forces of the living and the dead and a focal point for tribal
memory as a reminder of continuity and spiritual harmony, is, in terms of
function, the most static of these images. The fetish figure, often more
crudely fabricated (for fetishes indeed need not even be necessarily figur-
ative, but can be merely conglomerations of magically designated sub-
stances), is an agent of force-projection against malevolent forces or is used
to insure protection by gathering of beneficent forces. Therefore, if the
ancestor figure operates metaphorically through its image, the fetish figure
operates not so much through its image, as through the magical properties
of the physical object itself. The masks, of course, are used most directly
as part of ritual costume. Many examples in this exhibition have places for


the attachment of raffia and/or cloth costumes, or have fragments of raffia
and costume still left on them. In this case it must be realized that the
mask is merely part of a work of art which exists in an entirely fluid fashion
for a limited period of time, after which it is either dismantled or destroyed.
The masked dancer with his raffia and cloth costume and repertory of ges-
tures is in fact a moving, living work of art while he participates in the
dance. The masks and other parts of costume are only parts of a total con-
figuration of forms and symbols that result from and are integral to a con-
text of dance, music, gesture, dramatic action, song, and incantation in a
specific human and physical environment. The dancer and the parts of his
costume are also parts of a total configuration of objects, manufactured and
natural, which changes from situation to situation, both in relation to the
components and in relation to the extension of time and space in which the
various components exist and occur. Thus the drums, stools, masks, and
figures, along with their human and natural environments, form a total en-
vironment, an artistic occurrence or happening. They are parts of a total
spiritual experience, which may be seen as a kind of African equivalent for
the grand architectural spaces of a Gothic cathedral, in which the very
stones themselves are combined and recombined in the changing light of day,
modified by the light through the stained glass, the music of the mass as it
is sung, the smell of incense and candlewax, movement of reliquaries, bells,
costumes and people. In each case a similar experience is effected, though
in totally different ways: the experience of manufacturing a spiritual event
in which objects are constantly becoming recontextualized as they contribute
to the meaning and significance of the total ritual environment.
It is of course impossible to reconstruct this total ambience in a gallery
exhibition, just as it is impossible to reconstruct the vividness of the Gothic
cathedral through photographs or through a display of chalices or frag-
ments of figures. It is, however, possible to present the objects so as to
suggest these multiple meanings, to suggest glimpses and hints to the
viewer's imagination, so that it will be possible in some small way to appre-
hend the resonant significance of the objects presented. In order to help
suggest some of the contexts of these objects, a brief descriptive caption for
each object follows. Because the available data on the objects varies, de-
scriptions themselves have varied emphases, consonant with available data
and space. Ideally, the basic stages of interpretation incorporate analysis
of the object for distinctive features that might have symbolic significance
followed by investigation (utilizing field data) of possible meanings of these
features. By analysis of constants and variables within canonic forms of a
given tribe, integration of symbolic and formal interpretation can be
achieved and can provide iconological interpretation of the object, and re-
integration of the single object into the stylistic vocabulary of the tribe, in
order to determine the total "meaning" of the object in question. Obviously
it is impossible to accomplish all this in the present space. It is hoped, how-
ever, that the following descriptions will encourage the viewer to himself
participate in this process of interpretation and realization.

Associate Professor of Art
University of Florida


The present exhibition consists of objects collected by Dr. and Mrs.
Arlan Rosenbloom in 1967 and 1968, while Dr. Rosenbloom served as an
epidemiologist in the smallpox eradication program for the U. S. Public
Health Service, and as Technical Advisor to the Health Ministries of Came-
roon and Gabon. By making their collection available to the public, Dr. and
Mrs. Rosenbloom have not only given gallery-goers a fine opportunity to see
some excellent examples of African plastic art, but have also provided an
opportunity for students in the course in Primitive Art to study these objects
at close hand, to research the objects, and to assist in the preparation of
the catalogue. This catalogue, therefore, represents not only a joint effort
of the University Gallery, which staged the exhibition, and of the University
of Florida African Studies Center, which sponsored the catalogue, but also
represents the product of an educational experience for several students in
the primitive art class. Many of the objects are from Cameroon tribes, of
which William Fagg has written, "Our knowledge of the people of the Came-
roons Grasslands is in a very confused state, for there is too little
agreement about the definition of a tribe in this area. ."' As a result, a
good deal of hair-splitting was necessary in determining attributions, which
provided an excellent training situation for the students. It should also be
noted here that some of the attributions to small sub-tribes are tentative, and
in any case are meant in the stylistic rather than strictly ethnographic
sense. Credits for the various catalogue entries are given below.
I should like to acknowledge debts of gratitude to Professor Roy C. Cra-
ven, Jr., Director of the University Gallery and to Mr. Stephen L. Hodges,
Assistant Director of the University Gallery, for seeing the catalogue
through and installing the exhibition; to Dr. Irving R. Wershow, Acting
Director of the African Studies Center, for sponsoring the catalogue; and
finally to Dr. and Mrs. Arlan Rosenbloom for their generous loan of the
objects and for their general helpfulness.



Lyn Carroll: 8, 10; Joyce Dewsbury: 9, 11; Maxine Eisele: 32; Marion Gil-
liland: 5, 6, 7; Patricia Gilliland: 1, 3, 4; Beverly Glass: 23(A, B, C, D);
Diane Jessel: 16, 17, 18; Eric Johnson: 19, 20; Susan Lewis: 12, 14.
Entries 2, 13, 15, 21, 22, 24, 25, 26, 27, 28, 29, 30, 31, 33, 34, 35, 36, and 37
are by the Editor.

1William Fagg, Tribes and Forms in African Art, New York, 1965, pi. 64.


1. DANCE MASK. Wood. Cameroon, Bamileke.
38 cm. high
This mask is of the type held in front of the
face during the dance. Although the facial features
have been abstracted to give the mask an added
vigor and strength, it still retains a very obvious
2. MASK. Wood. Nigeria, Chamba(?). 61 cm.
The Chamba are a non-Moslem tribe whose reli-
gion combines the cult of ancestors with the worship
of bush spirits, and who carve both figures and
masks. Masks such as this, which represents a bush
cow, are worn by male dancers whose bodies are cov-
ered with fiber, in dances which honor the bush
spirits. The holes along the bottom of our example
were used to attach raffia.
3. STATUE. Wood. Cameroon, Bamileke. 48 cm.
This statue is similar to sculpture done by the
Bangwa group of the Bamileke cluster. The style
and stance are reminiscent of the statues carved in
the tribe for each king. The Bangwa are perhaps
the most accomplished of all the Grassland tribes in
figure sculpture.
4. HELMET MASK. Wood. Cameroon, Bamileke.
41 cm. high.
This helmet mask is worn on top of the head
during the dance. It is of the same style as the
Bamileke figure #3. Some of the finest Bamileke
work is produced by tribes comprising hardly more
than a single village.
5. COFFER. Wood. Cameroon, Bamum. 52 cm.
The Bamum tribe of the Cameroon Grasslands is
known for its rich, naturalistic and homogeneous
style. This coffer is probably an object for court
use and is covered with symbolism pertinent to the
Sultan in his capital of Foumban. The two-headed
snake symbolizes the power of the sultan and the
buffalo's horns the ideal of virility.
6. STOOL. Wood. Cameroon, Bamum. 27 cm.
This stool shows how naturally and realistically
the function of support can be depicted. The figures
have a sense of rhythm which was typical of the
Bamum carvings and a family technique passed
down as a secret from one generation to the next.
The figures on the top of the stool are in typical
pose, with one elbow resting on the knee and holding
a calabash of beer in one hand while the other holds
a brass pipe.

7. DRUM. Wood. Cameroon, Bamum. 63 cm.
This drum is supported by caryatid figures fre-
quently found in Bamum art. They have the puffy
cheeks and large open, deep set, pointed-oval eyes
characteristic of the tribe. The headdresses are in
the style of those worn for court ceremonies and look
like high, decorated caps. Another naturalistic de-
vice of Bamum carving is the palm tree which serves
as a vertical divider.

8. MASK. Antelope skin over wood. Nigeria, Ekoi.
45 cm. high
The principal art form of the Ekoi peoples is
the mask headdress used by the Ekpo society. Func-
tioning primarily for ancestor worship and mainten-
ance of social order, this secret male society employs
both grotesque animal and naturalistic human forms.
The naturalism of this piece is enhanced by stretch-
ing skin over a wooden frame.

9. HEAD. Human(?) skin and hair. Nigeria,
Ekoi. 35 cm. high
This head, carved of wood and covered with skin,
was probably used in the rituals of the Ekpo secret
society, along with carved masks. This society orig-
inated among the Ibo and permeated the Ibibio
country, eventually reaching the Ekoi. The Ekpo
society was one of ghosts and destroyers and great
brutality is connected with it. This head is related
to the mask style (cf. #8); both are carved in wood
and then covered with skin. The carved heads were
fastened to basket caps to be worn on top of the head
during the secret rituals of the society. Earlier,
human skin was used, probably that of a slave or an
enemy of the tribe, but now antelope skins are used.
The tradition of using human hair and skin was pos-
sibly derived from a tradition of head-hunting and
collecting of trophy heads which were dried and
then worn during ceremonies.

10. DANCE MASK. Wood and incrustation. Ca-
meroon, Bikom. 37 cm. high
This piece, attributed to the Bikom tribe, ex-
hibits the characteristic traits of the homogeneous
style of the Grassland dance masks. Masquerades
given by dance societies are attended by neighboring
tribes who adapt particularly dynamic styles to their
own use. Thus, this mask, with its wide open oval
eye and deeply incised nostril is similar in style to
those of neighboring Bamileke and Bamum tribes.

11. FETISH FIGURE. Wood, incrustation, cowrie
shells, Cameroon, Bakundu (or Balung)? 22
cm. high
This roughly carved figure is possibly from the
Bakundu tribe which has a tradition of carving
figures in a rough fashion. Because of the summary
treatment of the forms, the style is difficult to place.
The broad range of forms possible with fetish figures
varies greatly from tribe to tribe as well as within
individual tribes themselves. Therefore, fetishes
may lack the more specific repertory of motifs and
more standardized formats found in masks or com-
memorative figures.
12. GOAT MASK. Wood. Cameroon, Bamum. 75
cm. high
The Bamum use masks of many animals; par-
ticularly chameleons, lizards, buffalo, elephants, and
antelope in ceremonial and religious dances. The
animal motifs are derived from the tribe's mythology
and fables. The open oval eyes and criss-cross pat-
tern on the horns are characteristic of Bamum carv-
ing. The goat in this context may be symbolic of
virility and strength.
13. MALE FIGURE. Wood with incrustation. Ca-
meroon, Tikar. 51 cm. high.
This figure, which represents an ancestor spirit,
is especially noteworthy for its pose, which imitates
a common burial position, knees and elbows touch- 6.
ing, and hands under the chin. The hole in the
center of the figure is to hold ritual substances.

14. FEMALE FIGURE. Wood, raffia, glassbeads.
Cameroon, Bamileke. 59 cm. high
The placement of the hands emphasizes her
swollen, apparently pregnant condition. The figure
is probably an ancestor figure, which symbolizes
fertility. The large navel represents birth. Char-
acteristic of Bamileke carving are the wide open oval
eyes, open mouth and hair carved in ridges. It is
not unusual to see actual collars and raffia shirts on
such wooden figures, although beads are usually re-
served for royalty.

15. JANUS MASK. Wood. Cameroon, Anyang.
52 cm. high
This double-faced helmet mask is of particular
interest because of the heads surmounted above the
mask faces. The mask faces, one bearded, evidently
represent a male-female duality. The style is remi-
niscent of certain Ekoi forms. The open and closed
eyes may represent a further duality of life and
death, past and future.

16. BEADED MASK. Beads, cloth, raffia. Came-
roon, Bamileke. 155 cm. high

17. BEADED MASK. Beads, cloth, raffia. Came-
roon, Bamileke. 150 cm. high

18. BLOUSE. Cloth, raffia, goatbeard. Cameroon,
Bamileke. 117 cm high x 84 cm. wide
These objects are part of the costume worn by
notables on simple occasions such as holidays. The
masks, covered in delicate ornate bead work, are
worn over the rather bulky blouse. The blouse is
made up of cloth, raffia and goatbeard. The goat-
beard symbolizes virility and strength. The dance
is a simple shuffling movement in which the tribes-
men carry spears and bells and wear brass ankle
19. FETISH. Wood and polychrome. Cameroon,
Mambila. 23 cm. high
This female fetish was probably employed as a
protective fetish, associated with fertility. The
Mambila, located near the Cameroon-Nigerian bor-
der, is a matrilineal society, and witchcraft accom-
panied with blood-vengeance is attributed exclusively
to members of the female line.
20. FETISH. Wood and polychrome. Cameroon,
Mambila. 30 cm. high
This male fetish seems also to be a protective
figure, probably part of a male-female pair. The
arm gesture, coupled with horns projecting from the
head, may indicate a mask which is being held to the
21. STOOL. Wood. Cameroon, Bofut. 38 cm. high
This stool is carved with a design which repre-
sents highly stylized spiders. This same motif is
often found in the headdresses of Bikom masks.
22. STOOL. Wood. Cameroon, Bikom. 37 cm. high
This stool, though visually very different from
#21, also represents a spider motif. The two stools
together provide an interesting example of the broad
range of visual interpretation of motifs.

(A) The Enema. Brass. Cameroon, Bamum.
14 cm. high
This work demonstrates a rather primitive en-
ema, employing a funnel through which liquid is
poured. It was crafted on a street of artisans in
Foumban, using the lost wax method. Recently de-
veloped into a more commercial craft, brass work
was originally done only for a king who requested
a royal commemorative work. Although the loin
cloth hanging from the girdle of the "doctor" is
solely African, the facial features indicate heavy in-
fluence of an Arabic culture.
(B) Hernia Operation. Aluminum. Cameroon,
Bamum. 15 cm. high
This piece was also done in the lost wax tech-
nique. The aluminum, processed in Cameroon, is
imported from West Africa. The surgeon is incising
a mass in the attended man's abdomen. The pointed
headdress and loop-like loin cloth are common in
Bamum figure sculpture.

(C) Childbirth. Aluminum. Cameroon, Bamum.
15 cm. high
The grotesque proportions of hands, feet, ge-
nitalia, and facial features emphasize the awkward,
yet effortless birth. The young midwife receives the
stiff, stylized baby from his mother, who is seated.
The piece is unified and stabilized by a small run-
ning base often found in the delicate lost wax con-
(D) Sexual Intercourse. Brass. Cameroon,
Bamum. 11 cm. high
The graceful, flowing lines lend themselves very
well to this couple entwined in lovemaking. They
resemble a delicate knot set in the rhythm of the
metal. The non-African faces, the pointed head-
dresses, and the oddly proportioned hands are typical
of the small figures crafted on the street of Artisans
in Foumban.

24. TJI WARA. Wood. Mali, Bambara. 99 cm.
The best-known of all Bambara sculpture types,
antelope head-pieces such as this were attached to a
basketry cap and worn in agricultural rituals. Worn
only by men but always in male-female pairs, they
incarnate Tji Wara, a mythical being who taught
cultivation, and who symbolizes the tireless hus-
bandman. This example is in the so-called "vertical
style" from the eastern part of Bambara land, and is
probably from the San district.

25. TJI WARA. Wood. Mali, Bambara. 87 cm.
This female Tji Wara, so identified by the child
that she carries on her back, is related to those of
the Kenedoudou district.

26. MASK. Wood and tin strips. Mali, Bambara.
47 cm. high
This mask is of the type used by the N'tomo
society, a boy's graded secret society. Worn at cir-
cumcision rites, the masks receive the evil power of
the uncircumcised youths as they enter adulthood,
and transfer these forces to the Society. These
masks are also used at the N'tomo harvest festival
and to solicite gifts, food, and millet during the dry

27. TJI WARA. Wood and metal. Mali, Bambara.
75 cm. high
This "horizontal style" antelope is from the
northwestern region near Bamako. Here the head
is carved separately from the body and attached by
metal clamps, which is typical of this style and fur-
ther differentiates it from the other styles which are
always carved from a single block of wood.

28. MALE TWIN FIGURE. Wood. Nigeria, Yoru-
ba. 26 cm. high
Among the Yoruba these Ibeji figures are carved
upon the occurrence of the death of twin. The souls
of twins are indivisible and the soul of the deceased
one therefore requires an abode which allows it to
co-exist with the living twin. First the mother, and
later the surviving twin, carries the small figure on
his person. It is carefully cared for by the family
(bathed, oiled, dressed, and fed) and blessed every
year by a priest at the festival of twins. If both
twins die, two figures are carved and so cared for.
Our example is one of a pair.

29. MALE FIGURE. Wood and polychrome. Ca-
meroon. 52 cm. high
The coloration and position of the figure in this
little-known style seems to be related to figures from
the Bamenda district.

30. DRUM. Wood and skin. Ivory Coast, Senufo.
108 cm. high
This ritual drum, known as pliewo, is sup-
ported by a seated female figure which indicates the
human support the drum should have during, usage.
The various figures (turtle, snake, lizard, antelope,
etc.) carved in relief on the body of the drum, al-
though they do not follow any specific iconographic
program, are familiar emblems of fertility to the

31. MASK. Wood, kaolin, raffia. Gabon, Fang. 43
cm. high
This mask, of the type used by the Ngi secret
society, a graded society, is used to keep order in
villages by detecting and punishing sorcerers and
criminals. The white color is symbolic of death.

32. MASK. Wood. Ivory Coast, Baule. 31 cm.
This image refers to the sky-god Nyame, the god
of fecundity, in the form of a ram. The Baule use
zoomorphic elements to indicate mythological beings.

33. MASK. Wood. Ivory Coast, Baule. 50 cm.
This mask, represents Guli, the buffalo spirit.
Also known as Kakagye, the spirit of the dead, it is
displayed at night, when it is used against witches
and demons. The dancer, covered in fiber, dances on
all fours, while terrifying horn sounds are heard.
Women are forbidden to see this image, on pain of

34. CHILD'S MASK. Wood and metal. Ivory Coast,
Baule. 19 cm. high
This mask, is an excellent example of Baule
sensitivity, in the economy of expression, and in the
poetic merging of different materials.

35. DOLL. Wood. Chad, Kenga(?) 38 cm. high
The highly abstract and cubistic form of this
female child's doll indicates a probable origin among
the Kenga tribe of Bagirmi province. Although
many of the neighboring peoples are Islamized, the
Kenga are still pagan.

36. MASK. Wood. Liberia, Dan. 22 cm. high
This mask type is used by the powerful Poro
secret society. The holes around the outside were
used to attach raffia and other fibers. These masks
are worn by dancers with voluminous costume, who
sometimes dance on tall stilts.

37. MASK. Wood, cowrie shell, bells. Liberia, Dan.
23 cm. high
The round metal attachments on this Poro So-
ciety mask function as bells which sound as the
dancer moves. The cowrie shells on this female
mask may be symbols of fertility.





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