Artworks as Personal Story: Two African Carvings

Recently I wrote a series of blog posts about some of the art works hanging in my daughter's home and how they passed from my hands to hers. I enjoyed catching those memories so now I am paying 
attention to the art works that hang on my walls and where they came from.


This wooden carving has stood on a shelf in the den since 1971. 

One afternoon when I was browsing through interesting shops in near-by Georgetown (DC) I walked into a small art gallery which was crowded with intriguing African objects.  At the time I was a full-time college student art major taking many art history classes. I was drawn to this figure. Even  though it was small it had a presence as it stood in its place. It reminded me of the pictures in my art history textbooks in the chapters about the influence of African "primitive carvings" on Picasso and many other European artists in the 1900s. It was for sale. The price was surprisingly low. She has been here ever since.

Over time I have learned that this is an Ashanti fertility doll. There are many interpretations of the image which all have the large head, pronounced and upright breasts and small arms extended on either side.  She is a classic figure. Perhaps that is why she has such presence. I have drawn her and photographed her just because I like the simplicity and directness of the carving. She helps me to see and understand why these "primitive" objects had such a powerful influence on the artists who discovered their simple forms and used them to break away from the accepted images of the past. 

Or maybe, there was more. During those days when I was becoming an active advocate for women's issues I appreciated that her head was the dominant feature of the figure. 

Along the way I have added bases to give it more of a presence. I often change them. This is the latest composition. 

Ashanti Figure - Hand Carved Wood - purchased in 1972 - no known date

Animal Figure - Hand Carved Wood - purchases in 1985 - no known date
In 1985 I took The American Album, an art project representing American Women Artists, to the United Nations Conference on Women which was held in Nairobi, Kenya. I was in Kenya for three incredible weeks. During that time I made a brief safari to Mount Kilimanjaro in Tanzania to visit Amboseli Park to see the "animals" in natural habitat.

On the drive to Tanzania Francis, our driver and guide, stopped at several road-side stands where people were selling local crafts. I was attracted by the contrasting shapes of this intriguing figure and the power of the negative space in the core of the body. I was profoundly moved by the game rides through Amboseli Park where the animals roam free in a space that suggests Genesis and this figure also had mystery about it. The figure was not expensive so I bought it even though adding it to my already bulging baggage was foolish. The basket was a second purchase - also without considering how I would manage to get it into my suitcase. I worked that out by filling the basket with clothes - - and leaving some things on the bed in my hotel room. Since then I look for small items to take home.

The figure and the basket seemed to belong together so the carvings stand side by side.

1 comment:

Diane Dahli said...

What a choice you had to make—your clothing or your art, and you chose the art! I once owned two wonderful masks that a friend brought me from Nigeria in the 1960s. Unfortunately, I had to make some hard choices through the years, and consequently, somewhere through those years, the carvings were given away or lost. I do have some pictures of them, and treasure those representations! I am enjoying your posts about your art!