My dialogue with African art derives from the conviction that artistic creation arises from a common fund of humanity and that in the discovery of aesthetic solutions the making of masterpieces supersedes regions, cultures, and becomes part of the treasures from all places and all times of human creation.
Armand Arman, African Faces, African Figures: The Arman Collection

       The Fang of Gabon, are world renown for their Ngil masks, and their reliquaries; Byeri, (Bieri). While the masks were used in policing activities for the So and Ngil judiciary societies, the Byeri served a deeper more religious function.

 Aplus African Art

       The Bwitist cult of the Fang practice ancestor worship. Being a nomadic tribe, the members carried specific bones of ancestors in cylindrical bark boxes, atop which the byeri figures were placed to act as guardians. In the early 1900s, between 1910 and 1930, traditional Fang religion and art were subject to religious persecution by the Church, with the “approval of the French colonial government”  but “despite the burning of the temples, persecution and killings of religious leaders the movement continued to grow.”  (

       This I think is the deep and endearing difference between traditional Western and African Tribal art. The functionality of the pieces and their social/religious significance simply add to their esthetics and abstract form, at a level that is patently holistic and entirely appealing.

        When one considers the Byeri for example – while the objects were being destroyed, the essence of what the Fang admire most in people “tranquility, vitality, and the ability to hold opposites in balance”  are intangibles that could not be extinguished from their culture.  (Heilbrunn timeline of art history, The Met.). Although beaten to death by anthropologists, the concept of holding opposites in balance can be intuitively gleaned from the Byeri –

1)       The use of childlike proportions (head), versus the mature development associated with the adult body.

2)       The peaceful, abstract restraint of the facial expression versus the power exhibited through defined, flexed, “Popeye” like muscles.

 These concepts are universal, and we have learnt and seen them in different forms. Everyone has “an inner child”, and even the strongest leader among us will be well served at times, by a serene and calm disposition.

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