Lot: 128

Impressive male statue "d'mba" or "nimba"

Guinea, Baga

Provenance Size Hammer price
Toby & Joey Tanenbaum, Toronto, Canada

Tanenbaum and his wife Toby were among those named in ARTNews magazine's list of the top 200 art collectors in the world.
H: 39 inch 22000 EUR

wood, pigments, metal (tapestry nails), fabric, handwritten inventory no.: "B.664", rest., base

Widely known as "nimba", the sculptures called "d'mba" in the Baga language are amongst the rarest yet most emblematic forms of African art.
The singularity of its visual language, especially the striking outline of the archetypal "Nimba head", became a staple of modern artists' inspiration from the beginning of the 20th century, especially so in the case of Pablo Picasso, who owned a pair of standing "d'mba" figures.

The ban on ancestral ceremonies and the destruction of ritual objects in the 1950s by the Sékou Touré government, kept this major art form of the African continent concealed for a long time. Aside from a short study published by Denise Paulme in 1956, it was not until 1985, and the field research conducted by Frederick Lamp, that the meaning of the "d'mba" was fully understood.

The term "d'mba" refers both to the shoulder mask and the statues. The D'mba, which was long interpreted as the "fertility goddess", is in fact, according to Lamp, neither a deity, nor an ancestor, nor even a spirit, but rather an "idea", which combines "beauty, comportment, righteousness, dignity, and social duty". The shoulder masks are exclusively female - their nourishing breasts linking them to representations of fertility. The statues, on the other hand, depict both male and female figures and originally existed in couples. According to Lamp, this double gender within the statuary suggests that the "d'mba" represented the unattainable. The beauty, goodness, and high comportment that were epitomized was beyond what any woman - or man - could be".

A comparable pair illustrated in Lamp,1996, p. 225, fig. 217 (see also AHDRC 0055812). The figures were acquired locally in 1957 by J. and M. Nicaud. They were viewed as the guardians of the sacred places where the ancestors were worshipped and rituals performed to provide protection for the community.

"D'mba" - statues came to Europe long before the shoulder masks of the same name. As early as 1867 in the case of the statues held at the Nationalmuseet of Copenhagen, before 1883 for the ones at the Pitt Rivers Museum in Oxford, and 1885 for the ones collected by Coffinières de Nordeck and now held at the Musée du Quai Branly in Paris (AHDRC 0055806). None, however, were brought back with any collection information, which leads Lamp to believe that "they held a more sacred and prohibited role than the D'mba headdress, and that perhaps the figural tradition, especially, is of even greater antiquity."


Lamp, Frederick, Art of the Baga, New York 1996, p. 160, fig. 142