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African, Gabon, Fang people
Reliquary figure, 19th 20th century, wood, metal.
Collection of the Speed Art Museum X.1

The Fang people, who inhabit the dense rainforests of Central Africa, are organized around close-knit family units and claim a common ancestry. Because their society is so closely tied to the family, connections to their ancestors are very important. They have developed a very elaborate understanding of what happens to people after they die and their sculptors produced artifacts that represent the spiritual connection between the people and their ancestors.

This reliquary figure, created by an unknown Fang sculptor, symbolizes the connection between the living and the dead. A sculpture such as this would typically have been attached to the basket containing the remains of deceased ancestors.

The exaggerated features convey many of the emotions associated with grieving and at the same time express a desire for a return to stability. The enlarged forehead allows the sculptor to emphasize the eyes, which not only appear sad, but also evoke wisdom and emphasize a kind of vision that perhaps sees beyond the grave. The solid, muscular torso and legs of the figure evoke the kind of dependability that would be highly valued during the upheaval that is common in times of grieving.




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