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Han Coray, Lugano
Pace Gallery, New York
Jeff Soref, New York
Jean-Baptiste Bacquart, Londres
Guillaume, P. et Munro, T., La sculpture nègre primitive, Paris, 1929, Pl.19
Meisterwerk Altafrikanischer Kultur aus der Sammlung Casa Coray, Lugano, 1968, pl.88
Post Lot Text
IMPORTANT HEMBA ANCESTOR FIGURE
The Hemba live to the south-east of the Democratic Republic of Congo on land situated between the Congo River to the west and Lake Tanganyka to the east. On this small expanse of land the Luika River forms a natural barrier between the Hembas of the north and those of the south.
Franois Neyt made an exhaustive study of Hemba art in La grande statuaire Hemba du Zaïre, Louvain-la-Neuve, 1977, and classified the figures from the region into different groups. According to his stylistic classification the present figure belongs to group V, a style from Niembo de la Luika. This group is situated between the Mambwe to the east and the Muhona and the Nkuvu to the west. According to the author they produced "one of the finest of all Hemba art styles, if not of all the art styles of Zaïre", p.439. This distinguishing characteristics of this group are a face with half-closed, almond-shaped eyes, a long slender nose, rounded lips, a beard which is usually hatched, and a quadrilobed coiffure.
Our figure is similar to no.1 of Neyt's group V from the southern Hemba (p.187). In fact the two figures are in the same position, seated on a throne, wheras Hemba figures are usually standing. According to François Neyt, the seated position denotes prestige and power (p.429). Both ancestor figures carry sceptres. The stylistic details are almost identical. The face of our figure is especially close to fig.2, p.191, with its half-closed almond-shaped eyes, its long slender nose, rounded lips and quadilobed coiffure. The two may very well be by the same hand.
High-ranking male ancestors were the object of veneration amongst the Hemba, affirming their power and legitimising the ownership of their lands. (Arts of Africa, 7000 ans d'art africain, Monaco, 2005, p.355). The figures were kept in funerary houses or chief's houses. The scepter held in the present figure's hand is a reference to acts of courage and masculine aggression facing the dangers of war and hunting. (Cole H. M., Icons, Ideals and Power in the Art of Africa, Washington D.C, 1989, p.114).
The present figure is one of the earliest published Hemba works, featuring in the Guillaume and Munro book, La sculpture nègre primitive, 1929. It was for many years in the collection of Han Coray whose pride in its ownership can be seen from the 1946 portrait by Luigi Surdi in which Coray chose to be depicted seated next to this imposing statue. It also featured prominently in the 1931 exhibition of the Coray collection at the Gewerbmuseum in Winterthur, a view of which is reproduced here.