Beauty and History in Sculpture
I am generally drawn to paintings and collages, however in the Arts of One World exhibition, the sculptures are what stood out to me the most. The first sculpture I would like to discuss is the Seated Old Man, possibly the Old Fire God (unknown artist, wall text).
This sculpture is about two feet high and is made entirely from earthenware (unknown artist, wall text). There is no paint or varnish and the color is a very desaturated beige, giving it an ancient look. This is appropriate, as it dates all the way back between 300-900 C.E. (unknown artist, wall text). The character portrayed is an old man sitting cross-legged with his hands on his knees. He is wearing a hat, large earrings and what appears to be a piece of cloth around the lower section of his body.
The second sculpture I would like to discuss is the Nkisi Female Figure (unknown artist, wall text).
This sculpture is also about two feet high and while it is primarily made of wood, metal, bone, and vegetable fibre are also used (unknown artist, wall text). There does not seem to have been any paint used on it, as the sculpture is of a gorgeous wooden color made up of rich light and dark browns. The style is very reminiscent of other Congolese sculptures, with this particular one originating in the Eastern Kasai region of the Democratic Republic of the Congo (unknown artist, wall text). The character represented is a woman with a strong emphasis on the navel. The head and neck are also strikingly large compared to the rest of the body.
What drew me to these works was their aesthetic beauty and their sense of history. They are both composed of raw materials and visually demonstrate the cultures from which they come from. The similarities and differences of these two sculptures also contributed to my selection, as they complement each other very well. What unites these two sculptures is their subject matter. Both are approximately two-foot tall sculptures of human or human-like characters. Moreover, they both represent figures that have a certain power and importance, although the interpretation of the Seated Old Man is not a certain one (unknown artist, wall text). The Seated Old Man could represent the Old Fire God, a Mesoamerican divine figure who is in charge of keeping the Earth’s core warm and creating volcanoes (unknown artist, wall text). He is a very masculine, intimidating and fierce-looking character. On the other hand, the Nkisi Female Figure “was used to protect a community from malevolent forces and diseases” (unknown artist, wall text). This power was supposedly acquired with the help of a diviner-healer, also known as a nganga (unknown artist, wall text). This figure is a stark contrast to the Seated Old Man, as she is very feminine and represents protection rather than destruction (unknown artist, wall text). It is this relationship between the two pieces that fascinates me the most. They both represent power, but in completely opposite manners. The role of gender in power and protection can change vastly from culture to culture, and it is interesting to see how different communities represent this strength in different manners. Side by side, the two sculptures are visually quite similar, but in truth, they represent very different things.
Wall text for unknown artist, Seated Old Man, possibly the Old Fire God, The Arts of One World, Permanent Collection, The Montreal Museum of Fine Arts, Montreal.
Wall text for unknown artist, Nkisi Female Figure, The Arts of One World, Permanent Collection, The Montreal Museum of Fine Arts, Montreal.
Upper Image: Unknown artist, Seated Old Man, possibly the Old Fire God, 300-900 C.E.
Lower Image: Unknown artist, Nkisi Female Figure, before 1905