Hi Lee and group, I just posted a new album with repeats and new
shots pertinent to this post:
Props to Lee for linking to this page and moderating so expediently. You run a good board.
Picasso sat and stared at African masks and sculpture. They ended up
changing art forever both straightforwardly in his first abstract
breakthrough, Les Madamoisle de Avignon (?sp), and and at minimum
peripherally in his role in developing cubism, particularly in the
series of busts he did in 1907, which are the strongest argument he
didn't steal cubism from Braque..
I am not Picasso but am an artist who acquired two nkisi and rather
than just think about fake or real a and looking at them real close,
I been thinking about what the artist was expressing in his statue as
much as how he was seeing a how the figures features most likely make
Yombe of a Yombe knock-off. I've come to two plausible scenarios on
his conception and the sculptures history, one if not both of which
are probably right, but either of which make the piece more fun than
many I've seen authentic or commercial. I'd like to share them with
the group to see what, if any, touch points exist e between my
hypothesis and anthropological, art historical or collections
understanding of these amazing objects.
Basis for both hypotheses: As Steve Price noted, my corrosion at
penetration points appeared too uniform to be an authentic Nkisi.
This is perhaps true except for the key inserted into the back which
in my new album, I include a legible close-up showing the build up of
metal/rust below the penetration point, parts of whic is the front of
the key, but all of which is rusted in and corroding down to a far
greater degree than any other nail or Blade in the piece. The key is
being put in as any other key of this type would with the bottom key-
part aimed downward. If you look at the side perspective I show it
is aimed directly at the stomach charm box. This is not
coincidental. The key opens the box and releases the charms power.
If you imagine the piece stripped of every blade, two possible
scenario's come to mind
Scenario one: The Mystical. Much like tribal people unexposed to
modern culture saw the cross as a powerful fetish that help their
conquerers prevail in battle, they also would have seen keys, either
for the shackles prisoners and future slave were restrained in or for
locks that secured precious objects in a box. To a tribal person, a
key could be viewed as a powerful object in that two-fold way. The
Nkisi could have existed with only the key for some time and sat
facing away from the village as a warning that powerful magic would
be unleashed to anyone who messed with the tribe. As the glass
covered stomach box shows only white pigment inside, rather than a
mirror, it's first use given the symbolism of white as dark magic,
was as a a warning sign,to anyone threatening the village of what
they would face if they sought to bring harm to any of it's members.
Then perhaps somewhere down the road when the villige no longer
believed the strong magic was working, it could have for a time acted
as a mirror bellied nkisi to seal agreements.
Scenario Two: The Satire: With only the key, the piece also looks
like a wind-up doll. If it was made as a forgery of an authentic
nkisi, it makes a commentary on the ideas of magic as protecctive
things as a childish joke. That the figure has it's tongue sticking
out, as if embellishing the joke is notable as I have not seen a
nkisi effectively blowing a raspberry as this one certainly could
have. If this is a clever forgery, it is one with a built in concept
that could be interpreted either as the joke is on you and magic is
real and you pay if you challenge it, or that the notion of fetishes
as objects of power is a childish belief. If the statue was made in
Europe by a skilled forger, the joke could go a step further as the
stupid collect who bought it was getting blown a raspberry for buying
a convincing fake. If it was made in Africa by a tribal person as a
commercial nkisi, the artist could have been making the same
statement to the person he would never see but who he knew someday
would be buying for way more than it was worth thinking ti was real.
I believe the latter case is miost likely for reasons a latter
comment of mine will make obvious.
Or it could be both scenarios, in a hegelian world, where as the
artists point of view on the Nkisi changed, so too did it's purpose,
perhaps he converted to christianity, but used it to sign deals for a
while, then in the end to make it more marketable he hammered in many
more nails and blades because that's what the customers liked, or
perhaps all the extra nails were added by a stupid European hustler
who foolishly diminished the value of a real tribal piece adding nail
later because that's what the market wanted. The following detailed
observation I've made of the pice makes this seem quite possible.
What is true, is that somebody value this piece enough to go to the
trouble of wood pegging in the arm when it cracked when a nail was
being put in and the arm fell off. The is even what appears like a
crack on that arms wrist so perhaps that had to be glued back
together too. It is obvious by one of my close-up a nail strike to
it's arm which is only a hole now caused the damage. Were it an
older harder piece when modified, the wood would have hardened to
Did tribesmen ever use peg construction or is this solely a european
repair method. The hole the peg goes in does appear like it could've
been burned in as it is imperfect, though a smart forger would know
to do that to make it look authentic to an unstudied patron. Even if
it was european in origin, I believe it would only be partly so and
the idiot trying to doctor up a genuine tribal artifact couldn't just
make another. He would have to fix it.
All interesting possibilities. Thoughts anyone. TIA.
I also include a top rear shot of the head of my smaller blade only
nkisi. Unlike my large on, to me it looks like chisel marks unlike
my large wind-up one that doesn't have a single mark that looks like
it could be a chisel mark.. It is as if a European forger tried to
make a cheap companion to a real nkisi bit was not very skilled at
doing so, but at least they knew how to join. What do you think.
TIA to any and all who set me straight on this last point, or who
share ideas on anything I've written.
Two more observations:
Though I said i found no chisel marks on the sculpture, turning it
upside down, it does appear the geniteles were chseled out at some
later date. I'll post a pic if that is informative.
Lastly, and likely of know value, if you look at the Nkisi's face, it
is a very close resemblance to Picasso. Bizzare