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Beauty in African Art

Beauty in African Art

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Zulu Ceremonial African Spoon (Zoulou, late 19th century)
The Zulu People live in what is now the South African province KwaZulu-Natal. Compared to other peoples in Africa, the Zulus did not produce a lot of sculptures. Most of their artwork consisted of utensils like cutlery and head rests. But of what is known, their artwork is usually of high artistic quality characterized by beautifully stylized forms, often decorated in a geometric style.

Zulu spoon replica
African Zulu spoon replica, PN# AFR02

The Zulu Tribe have a history of producing a great variety of ceremonial sculpted spoons. These were only used at special occasions. Normally one ate with the right hand. But during a festive meal or a ceremony, the spoon was used to share the food which was sometimes scarce. According to Zulu-custom, the cutting of a spoon was a man’s privilege and it had a great symbolic value. For example, a young bride was not allowed to share a meal with her husband before her family had exchanged a goat with the groom’s family. This animal was named the goat of the spoon because the bride received a spoon at the same time. This special spoon was stored in a basket woven by women.

This particular Zulu Spoon has been shaped in the form of a female nude body. It is elongated in a stylized manner, quite graceful and beautiful.

Luba Ceremonial Head Rest (AFR04)
Luba Ceremonial Head Rest (AFR04)

African Luba Head Rest (19th century)
The renowned Luba people live in a vast area in the southeast of the West African democratic republic of the Congo. Their history of over 500 years is turbulent and violent, yet their artistic tradition is refined and harmonious. In Luba society, the artist was respected as a man of distinction, and could be identified by the ceremonial axe he always carried over his shoulders.

One of his most sacred creations was the sculpted head rest. In daily life, it protected the vulnerable ceremonial hairstyle, but its symbolic meaning went far beyond that. It reflected the owner’s well-being and social prestige, and it protected him against nightmares. The head rest was such an important personal possession that it was often buried with its deceased owner in his grave.

This headrest illustrates a man and woman in a loving embrace. It is perhaps a wedding headrest. They look into each others eyes with the rest balanced on their heads.

Head rest, Northern song dynasty, made from  ceramic stoneware, Macau Museum
Head rest, Northern song dynasty, made from ceramic stoneware, Macau Museum

Consider the different motifs of these two head rests? In this Chinese headrest with a sculpted woman sleeping, a lady sleeps calmly on a floor mat. Both headrests associate an activity with their purpose. Whereas the African one describes love and coupling, the Asian one invokes peaceful rest.

Eket Ibibio Marionette (AFR05)
Eket Ibibio Marionette (AFR05)

Eket Ibibio Marionette Puppet Replica
The Ibibio people live in southeastern Nigeria, between the Delta and the Cross River. The southern part of that area is inhabited by the Eket Ibibio. The social life of the Ibibio is determined by various secret societies. The key is the Ekpo (literally ancestor), consisting of a wealthy elite that determines the political and religious life. In exercising their functions, the members wear beautiful masks. Once every seven years, they organize an exuberant music and theater festival.

These types of wooden statues are used as puppets. In the original, the marionette had arms attached to the body with a pin so that they can move. Like the other images of the Ibibio, they are characterized by rounded shapes and a long row of teeth bared. Representations like these of evil spirits can be very frightening.

This replica reminds one of other primitive deity statues such as Polynesian Tiki Gods. He has a wide smile grimace and bubbled eyes.

Private tiki decor in Windsor, California.
Private tiki decor in Windsor, California.

museum replicas from our store
Some original artworks are available as replicas in our store.

Reproductions available at