African Art: a prestigious Swiss collection

Milan, Wednesday 14 October 2020


Senufo, regione di Sikasso (Mali, regione meridionale)

Bright dark patina wood
H 109 cm

Deble Sculpture.
Male sculpture carved based on stylistic criteria common among Senufo sculptors, from the region of Sikasso. Senufo’s emblem, the “Calao” bird, is carved on the head of the figure, which has a long nose connected to the arched eyebrows. Its eyes are closed, his lips and ears protruding. He is tall and slim, with long arms and hands laid on his thighs. The sculpture is supported by a large base and the handle on the head of the figure allows the sculpture to be lifted and beat down against the ground. The light coating on the contact points denotes a prolonged use.


€ 12.000 - 16.000

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- Former Paolo Morigi collection (Lugano);
- George F. Keller antique collection (Bern) (Inv. G.F.K. 126);
- Former private collection (Lugano);


- Berna 1980, Musée des Beaux Arts;
- Lugano 2002, Palazzo Riva, Banca Svizzera Italiana (BSI);


Reproduced in:
- MORIGI PAOLO “Raccolta di un amatore d’arte primitiva” Magliaso, Lugano & Kunstmuseum Berna, Svizzera 1980, tav. 33, pag. 51;
- VENTURI LUCA M. “Anime antiche, arte negra, da una raccolta di sculture dell’Africa occidentale” Banca BSI, Lugano 2002, tav. 4;

- DERBIER ALAIN “Arte e Cultura Africana: Il Museo SMA di Lione” published by Società Missioni Africane, Genova, January-March 2002, n° 53, “La Signora di Latha” pages. 27 - 29;
- LEUZINGER ELSY ”L’Arte dell’Africa Nera” Milan 1972, page 68;
- GLAZE ANITA J. “The Children of Poro” in Bulettin du Musée Barbier-Muller n° 20, Geneva 1983;
- HOLAS B. “Arts de la Cote d’Ivoire: Les trésors du Musée d’Abidjan” Vevey 1969, pages 67 and 155;

Deble sculptures, which generally represent female figures, though sometimes also male ones, used to be routinely kept in the sanctuaries of the “Lo” or “Poro” secret society, which governed the social and religious life of the Senufo population. These works became accidentally known at the start of the 50s thanks to an sudden prophet, M’péni Dembélé. After having introduced a new fetishist cult called “Massa”, he ordered all sanctuaries to be abandoned all the sculptures kept inside to be burned. Fortunately, several beautiful, and now incredibly rare pieces were saved, and they are still proof of the strong creative power of Senufo sculptors. It was by chance in August 1950 that two French catholic missionaries, Reverend Gabriel Clemens and Michel Convers, literally collected some of the sculptures abandoned by Senufo people from the landfills in the northern villages around Korhogo, which would have otherwise disappeared. Some of these works, considered masterpieces of African art, are now exhibited at Rietberg Museum in Zurich and in the Metropolitan Museum of New York.Deble statues were the highest instrument of worship in the “Lo” secret society and were used during the funerals of its most prominent members. Deble statues, however, were also used for at other ceremonies. During initiation ceremonies, for example, the youngest members of “Lo” society, arranged in lines, used to hold Deble statues in front of them and beat their base against the ground to the beat of music. Due to this use, the wooden surface of the arms is now smoother and more worn-out compared to other parts and there are traces of erosion on the base.Through the rhythmic and muffled blows on the floor, the young villagers sought to evoke the helping presence of the souls of the dead living inside the ground and of “Katieleo”, the mother goddess, so that she could purify the ground and make it fertile. The songs were uttered in the secret language of “Lo” society and were accompanied by the sound of wooden trumpets and instruments made out of pumpkins.Except for some formal differences related to the subgroups of origin, being traditional figures, all Deble sculptures have common features: they are carved using hardwood (Vitex doniana or Sterocarpus erinaceus), have a vertical and elongated structure and a space left between the arms and the body to allow handling, as well as a large base. As they were used for the initiation ceremonies of the youngest members of “Lo” society, their average height is between 60 and 90 cm, although some statues are 135 cm high. The sculptures of Senufo groups living in the northern part of Ivory Coast and in southern Mali were influenced by Dogon and Bambara art, and this is reflected by the structure in blocks and the front-facing position of the human figure.


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