50 PUNU MASK OKUYI, GABON Light wood cheese, kaolin, pigments
Punu masks were some of the first African pieces to gain the approval and praise of western artists at the beginning of the century. They are idealised portraits showing the importance of women in the community and the bond with the spirit world. They were worn by dancers on stilts during spectacular performances and used in community okuyi rites. The face in a triangle has a smooth profile with the forehead and nose softly sloping above a mouth with big lips and a hollowed philtrum under the slim-sided nose. The eyes are delicately split beneath the slightly raised brow arch and suggest introspection or contemplation. The modelled ears are on two long braids framing the face, a shell chignon and side braids striped with thin strands give the whole piece a sense of sophistication. A pearlescent tie holds the high chignon in place in a symbol of elegance. Note the internal size of the well-used piece.
From its general look (very classic shape), attention to anatomical detail (especially the standard of the head sculpture and scarifications) and patina, we can estimate (despite the lack of information about its origin) that this Meke-Betsi Fang byeri is old, probably from the first quarter of the 20th century. Louis Perrois Comparison pieces This piece from the Sir Henry Wellcome collection in Los Angeles bears similarities with the item in question, namely in the statue’s stocky structure and arm movement as well as the engravings on the cheeks and the shape of the face with the curvy jawbone.
* Important: This comment is based solely on the external appearance of the piece and available documents subject to technical confirmation following regular tests. * Ce commentaire fourni à titre privé et confidentiel ne peut être reproduit ni publié ni mentionné publiquement, même partiellement, sous quelque forme que ce soit (imprimée ou sur internet, en français ou autres langues), sans autorisation écrite préalable de l’auteur. © Louis Perrois 2008. * This comment provided as a private and confidential information can be reproduced neither published nor mentioned publicly, even partially, in any form (by print or on Internet, in French or other languages) without the prior written consent of the author. All rights reserved for all countries. © Louis Perrois 2008. © DR
51 FAN BYERI RELIQUARY FIGURE, EQUATORIAL AFRICA, NORTH GABON, MEKE-BETSI AREA Wood with brown patina, eyes in brass, decoration of brass in the navel Base signed by Kichizo Inagaki (1876-1951)
The large head and stocky figure of this byeri male effigy is typical of the Southern Fang style, namely the Meke-Betsi from North and North West Gabon. The seated figure is holding (in long figurative fingers) an offering goblet in front of his chest. The Fang style is easily recognisable with raised muscles on the arms, calves, sculpted shoulders and thighs whose curves continue into the shapely buttocks (the fitting rostrum on the nsekh-byeri reliquary chest is missing). The torso is rounded in a “barrel” shape with a prominent navel (marked by a brass nail). The male organ hangs between the thighs. Note the attention given to the back’s finish with a longitudinal plane running into the headdress’s ridge. The head is bigger than the body with a sophisticated sculptural finish and is a fine example of “classic” Southern Fang style with a concave-convex face made up of a wide perfectly domed forehead and heart-shape with wide, slightly hollow orbits, curved eyebrows, a small and flat nose and a pronounced hollow under the nose. The protruding jawbone has no mouth or chin but is nicely rounded in keeping with the face’s curves. Fairly rare feature: scarifications engraved on the forehead and cheeks (reminiscent of those that G. Tessmann observed in 1907-1909 in Spanish Guinea – see Die Pangwe, 1913, vol. I, p. 262 & p. 265, Abb. 218). The “rake” pattern on the cheeks and temples is called “a girl’s tears” [milige-me-mbon]. It was a very popular pattern. The slight