64 (page 82) NOK FIGURE, NIGERIA Terra cotta with ochre-red engobe
Provenance - Alain de Monbrison Gallery, Paris - Private collection, Paris This seated male Nok statue in Katsina Ala1 style is a fine example of the great Nok stylistic tradition in statuary, which flourished between 900 BC until about 875 AD in central Nigeria around the Jos plateau. The Nok style was discovered by the English archaeologist Bernard Fagg, the brother of William, the famous Keeper of African art at the British Museum. Bernard Fagg was the first to publish descriptions and give the name of "Nok culture" to these sculptures, before devoting his time to the subject until his death in 1987. He published Nok Terracotta, the first reference work about the style in 19772 A French researcher, Claire Boullier, wrote a remarkable doctoral thesis on Nok statuary at the Sorbonne in 2001.3 In 1998 Bernard de Grunne organised the first exhibition ever held about Nok art at the Banque Général du Luxembourg with the help of private collections and museums. A catalogue of 66 works was published for the occasion with an introduction by Mr P.B. Eta, the General Secretary of the Federal Culture Ministry of the Federal Government of Abuja in Nigeria. The catalogue was the first stylistic analysis of Nok art. Bernard de Grunne underlines that of a group of 373 complete Nok statues that have been studied, 40% were standing figures, 40% were seated and 20% kneeling. He drew attention to four different styles defining the art of Nok culture: the Jemaa Nok style, the Katsina Ala style, and further to the north of the Nok area, the less elaborate Sokoto and Katsina styles. The Nok style known as Katsina Ala, to which the statue presented here belongs, is formally characterised by an unusual elongation of the head, with a lengthened and almost cylindrical shape. This important Nok statue in Katsina Ala style represents a male figure seated on a cylindrical base. His attitude is meditative, with the arms supported by the crossed legs, and the chest bowed. The face is depicted in larger proportions, and modelled with extreme refinement, with half-moon-shaped eyes, a wide nose and a slightly open mouth, and pierced in a characteristic way with a round hole. The wealth of details is remarkable: ringed bracelets around the ankles, knees and wrists, the wide torque falling over the shoulders and chest, the extensive decoration on the back, the loincloth around the waist. The hair is made up of short plaits over the top of the head and braids falling on either side of the face, with a small two-part beard completing the moustache. The statue is in a perfect state of conservation, and has a thick texture in a deep red-ochre colour, underlined by traces of anthracite firing. The noble attitude of the effigy, the quality of the details enriching it, the absence of damage which is mentioned on the certificate, make this exceptional work a rare example of Nok culture. We have very little information about the use and aim of Nok statues. The few archaeological indications seem to rule out a funeral use. These sculptures were likely to have been depictions of important individuals, such as kings, queens, priests or soothsayers, and were probably worshipped as such in sacred places such as temples and altars.4 Bernard de Grunne
1. Name of the archaeological site where the first seated figure with a distinctive style of elongated head, brought together under the name of the Katsina Ala style. See Bernard de Grunne, Naissance de l’art en Afrique noire, Société Nouvelle Adam Biro, Banque Générale du Luxembourg, Paris, Luxembourg, 1998, p. 23. 2. Bernard Fagg, Nok Terracottas, Ethnographica, the National Commission for Museums & Monuments, London.
3. Claire Boullier, Recherches méthodologiques sur la sculpture en terre cuite africaine: application à un corpus de sculptures archéologiques - en contexte et hors contexte - de la culture Nok (Nigéria), Doctoral thesis in Art and Archaeology, Paris La Sorbonne, 2001, and Claire Boullier and Yves Person, “La statuaire ma