Baule Figure Côte d'Ivoir
Baule figurative statuary is some of the best-known and most collected. Finely carved male and female figures ranging in size from small to large are generally portrayed in a standing position of formal calmness with arms close to the body and hands resting on the abdomen. Attention is focused on the head with emphasis given to detailed face and neck scarification and elaborate coiffures. Figures are often enhanced through the addition of gold leaf or by jewelry. The well-carved figures are burnished to a dark glossy patina from much handling.
Baule figure sculptures fall into two categories, the first represent spirits of the wild (asie usu) that live in the bush beyond village boundaries and the second are male and female figures that represent ‚Äòspirit world' spouses for their owners.
This particular piece may represent the spirit of the ancestor. As for other figures in this category, the piece was kept in personal shrines where offerings were made to it. This shrine sculpture honors the ancestors. The same piece may also have served at the divination and kept in a shrine for Mbra and displayed during the trance or divination process to assist the priest.
Baule wood carvings are a traditional form of art originating from the Baule people of Côte d'Ivoire in West Africa. Renowned for their exquisite craftsmanship and cultural significance, Baule wood carvings have gained international recognition as a remarkable expression of African art.
The Baule people have a rich artistic heritage, and wood carving holds a central place in their artistic traditions. Skilled Baule artisans create a wide range of wooden sculptures, primarily using a type of hardwood known as iroko. These carvings often depict human figures, animals, and various mythological beings.
One of the distinguishing features of Baule wood carvings is their attention to detail and realism. Artisans carefully carve the wood to create intricate facial features, body postures, and elaborate hairstyles. They employ chisels, knives, and other hand tools to shape the wood, bringing out the expressive qualities of each sculpture.
Baule wood carvings serve multiple purposes within their cultural context. They are primarily associated with spiritual beliefs and practices, serving as vessels for ancestral spirits or deities. These sculptures are believed to act as intermediaries between the human and spirit worlds, connecting the living with their ancestors and providing a channel for communication and guidance.
The most notable type of Baule wood carving is the spirit spouse, also known as a "blolo bla" or "asie usu." These sculptures represent the spiritual companion of an individual and are often commissioned for personal and family use. Spirit spouses are depicted as idealized figures, embodying beauty, wisdom, and fertility. They are believed to provide protection, support, and companionship to their human counterparts.