Exhibitions/ Art Object

Architectural Element: Female

19th–20th century
Cameroon, Grassfields, Fumban City
H. 34 x W. 13 1/4 x D. 11 3/4 in. (86.4 x 33.7 x 29.9 cm)
Credit Line:
The Michael C. Rockefeller Memorial Collection, Gift of Nelson A. Rockefeller, 1964
Accession Number:
Not on view
Cameroon’s Grassfields region is organized into numerous polities whose populations range from several hundred to tens of thousands. At the apex of each of these highly stratified centers is an individual who serves as a spiritual and political authority. The strength, wealth, and magnificence of such leaders is reinforced through a tradition of royal art. Palace architecture is the most visible insignia of leadership, and the carved pillars supporting roofs an important platform of expression. The imagery that adorns such architectural elements is often of attendants and slaves. This figure and its male counterpart appears to have belonged to a single pillar and depict a shackled female subject and a man making a gesture of deference towards the king. An archival photograph documents that they were kept in the royal palace of Fumban, the capital of the Bamum kingdom, shortly before being brought to the West.

In 1966, this female figure was sent to Dakar, Senegal, along with 22 other works from the Museum of Primitive Art. There it was featured as part of an important exhibition organized for the First World Festival of Negro Art. Organized only a few years after many African nations gained independence, this ambitious international gathering was seen as a celebration of the cultural diversity of creative ideas and art developed across the continent and its diaspora. Initiated by Senegal’s first president Léopold Sédar Senghor, under the auspices of UNESCO and the French government, the event included an exhibition of traditional art, Negro Art: Sources, Evolution, Expansion, as well as theatre and dance performances. Echoing Senghor’s political ambitions and theories, the Festival was to be "a solemn and unprecedented assertion of values of Négritude," the pan-African ideological movement he developed as a literary figure and public intellectual.
[Charles Ratton, Paris, until 1961]; Nelson A. Rockefeller, New York, on loan to Museum of Primitive Art, New York, 1961–1964; Museum of Primitive Art, New York, 1964–1978

Museum of Primitive Art. Masterpieces in the Museum of Primtive Art: Africa, Oceania, North America, Mexico, Central to South America, Peru. Handbook series. New York, NY: Museum of Primitive Art, 1965, 23.

The Metropolitan Museum of Art. Art of Oceania, Africa, and the Americas from the Museum of Primitive Art. New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1969, no. 397.

Fagg, William B. African Sculpture. Washington, DC: International Exhibitions Foundation, 1970, no. 65, p. 68.

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