Iagalagana, Halos, and Price Points

African Tribal art pricing is not intuitive and is very subjective. Premiums can be based on provenance, age, patina, originality, rarity, and any number of other less material factors.

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Mumuye Tribe: Iagalagana (Claiborne Mumuye)

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Mumuye location : Northeast Nigeria, below the Benue river.

The Mumuye have an interesting statuary tradition in the Iagalagana. These were used as abstractions of incarnate tutelary spirits. The recently acquired ‘Claiborne Mumuye’ from the Liz Claiborne and Arthur Ortenberg collection was purchased at auction. It’s one of the ‘providential’ cases where a piece with a Sotheby’s provenance was not advertised as such, however this did not materially detract from the bidding. In the piece shown above some of the interesting factors include the slight tilting of the head, the cubist forms, and the sculptor’s longitudinal development of the chest area.

Mumuye Buddies

Mumuye Buddies – AplusAfricanArt collection.

One of my pet theories in developing relationships with customers is having comfortable price points, not just from the customer’s end but also from the dealer’s end. Invariably this requires acquiring, and keeping a couple Stars, and developing the concept of the Halo effect. This allows customers to understand much of the pricing dynamics inherent in investable African Tribal art. While I am not a huge fan of provenance the fact is that it has become a major pillar in an entire industry,  and once understood enables customers to more comfortably purchase affordable pieces of African Tribal Art.

Currently one of the amazing (read as disappointing) aspects of Collecting African Tribal Art is that the African American community for the most part remains largely uneducated about the beauty of their ancestral art forms, and have pretty much been priced out from serious collecting, (see interesting ends to the collections of Bayard Rustin and Merton Simpson).

 

 

My Tribal African Art Vibe

It’s amazing… I picked up one piece, and now I have to admit the apartment is literally crawling with African Tribal Art . They have settled into their own groups… adhering to the ‘melting pot’ philosophy of American lore yet strangely dominating my small universe in their own unique ways. Collecting Tribal African Art is turning out to be both fun and instructive. There are many important  values and norms one can distill from the tribal cultures.

Bambara Maternity Statues

Bambara - Maternity Statues

Maternity

The Bambara maternity statues offer peaceful, even tranquil backdrops of mothers with children playing on their laps. Their poised beautiful faces, on slender necks, slim figures with slight postnatal curves evoke a sense of definitive idealism.  Who would not want to recreate the peaceful scenes?  In start contrast the Baga Nimba is large and domineering, the first figure facing the door, the large head, almost an arm wide, with heavy breasts and braided plaits signifying a mature fertile woman who has had children. This represents the maternal feature of motherhood, the eagle watching over her brood and promising times of plenty. If hope grows the contrast in size is well reflected in the group of Aku’ba dolls from the Ashante Tribe of Ghana.

Ashanti Akua'ba dolls

The legend of Akua and solving the riddle of her barrenness using her doll is now interwoven with the myth of producing progeny of beauty and grace.

Teaching

The Mumuye tribe of Nigeria produce sculpture called iagalagana which represent tutelary spirits and which offer an aesthetic abstract form that truly fascinates, incorporating a high degree of heterogeneity.

Mumuye Tribe - Iagalagana

‘They seem to be reminders of living together in a multicultural society, one were we are enough alike to be able to speak to one another, yet different enough for everyone to have something to say.’  [1]

Mende, Sowei Mask : "The Renewed Spirit rising from the water"

Not to be outdone , the Sowei mask, from the Mende of Sierra Leone is the maternal disciplinarian – representing the  passage from adolescence to adulthood, and the rebirth in a more developed value system with higher expectations, and greater responsibility.

Luck

Nikisi - Protection against "Bad Luck"

The rabbit feet of Tribal African Art would be the Nikisi from the Kongo Tribe. The startling images of upraised hands and nail impaled bodies were used to keep away sickness, bad luck, misfortune, bind promises, and repel evil spirits. One can never have too many.

Reliquaries

From the Mahongye, to the Kota, to the Fang the reliquaries were used to guard the remains of ancestors. To the nomadic tribes this was important since their link to the past is the thread that held the value systems in the communities on a consistent footing through the years. The abstract nature of their sculpture, developed perhaps by a need to conserve space, resulted both in beautiful works, and a holistic representation of social concepts.

Fang Tribe, Bieri sculpture

I particularly admire the Fang representation of the “Balance of Opposites” – using the proportions of a child whilst representing a strong powerfully built adult; showing power yet at the same time exhibiting calm. Forces we wrestle with on a daily basis, even today.

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