Mbra cult monkey figures often known as Gbekre
|The Baule have monkey figures commonly used for the "Mbra" cult that more or less resemble each other. Endowed with prognathic jaw and sharp teeth
and a granular patina resulting from sacrifices, the monkey holds a bowl or a pestle in its paws that was used to hold an egg. Sources differ on its role or
function: some say it intervenes in the ritual of divination, others that it is a protection against sorcerers, or a protective divinity of agrarian rites, or a
bush spirit. Owned only by trance diviners and certain families, the figure resides hidden outside under a shelter. The sculpture is said to feed on
sacrifices brought from the bush and poured all over the figure, leaving it filthy and encrusted.
Sources: A History of Art in Africa and Africa and Africa - The Art of A Continent
"Baule Monkeys are powerful objects, which are forbidden to be seen in public display. Monkey figures share stylistic features with the mens´s sacred
masks, and have some of the qualities of secrecy and danger to women. They combine animal and human traits in such way that it is nearly impossible
to separate them, and they have the prominent teeth and boxy muzzle typical of the masks. Both also receive sacrifical offerings directly on the
sculpture, and are associated with the bush. Mbra monkey figures, for example are kept in the village, but "fed" with sacrifices in the bush."
Susan Vogel, 1997:238
"In Baule culture, cupbearing monkey statues, commonly known as "gbekre" since their first mention in 1900 by Maurice Delafosse, belong to the
category of amwin, or "objects of power". They were used by men-only initiation societies for a number of purposes, both functional – as a basis for
prophylactic practices, linked to agrarian rites or to a form of divination known as mbra (Bouloré in RMN, 2000: 107 et Vogel, 1997: 221-230) – and
iconographic, each type being designated by a specific term (aboya, mbotumbo, ndyadan, gbekre...)." Sotheby's
Horrific Baule objects, apparently mostly for Mbra, often incorporate actual skulls into wooden sculptures. In the Baule system , this type of objects is
potent and the least likely to be publicly displayed."
Susan Vogel, 1997:224
|Baule monkey figure
Wood, cloth, monkey skull, pigment
Acquired from Wolfgang Jaenicke - Tribal Art Forum
"Standing on a circular base the enlarged feet supporting bent legs beneath a cylindrical torso framed by bent arms and hands joined together holding a
cup, the real monkey skull with opened mouth fletching the teeth, the pierced back head shows traces of sacrifications, partly encrusted blackened
patina. The form of sacrification has a peculiarity, instead of a thick encrustation, like it is typical for a lot of Gbekre and Mbra cult figures of this form,
this statue has remains of bone-splinters on parts of the body, which obvious comes from the fontanelle of the monkey´s skull. It could be a ritual act to
destroy the fontanelle otherwise - if it would be a damage - the splinter wouldn´t be attached to the sculpture as it is in the bowl, back and base of the
figure." - T.A.F.
This figure, at least in my opinion, is one of the most visually appealing and interesting figures of this type that I have ever seen, I absolutely love it. It's
beautiful and haunting all in the same sentence. I have always been drawn to these figures, but this one has a presence about it that is undeniable.
From head to toe this piece has incredible features, lines and detail, and the incorporation of the monkey skull makes a dramatic and powerful
statement. There are a few documented examples of these figures that incorporate a monkey skull into the carving, but for the most part the entire
carvings are usually made entirely of wood.
The figures embodied the powerful and animal part of the human spirit which the Baule believe exists in each person and lives in the bush, this piece
gives a terrific visualization of that spirit.
This is the 3rd of this type of figure that I have had in my collection to date, and is definitely my favorite by a long shot. For me personally, I really can't
imagine coming across another figure that I'd like better than this.
All photos on this page of this object were taken by Tribal Art Forum and used with permission
|Examples in information below for reference purposes
|Above is an example in the Metropolitan Museum of Art in NY
|Sotheby's pieces below
|Property from a Belgian Collector
Sotheby's 2000, Lot 56
A superb Baule monkey figure
aboya, of anthropomorphic form, standing on a square base with flat feet and bent legs leading to rounded hips and tapering to the torso with
pendant phallus, the muscular shoulders issuing bent arms with stylized hands holding a vessel, the large simian head with prognathous
mouth, prominent teeth and ridged nose leading to a raised brow; heavily encrusted and blackened patina. height273/4in. (70.5cm.)
Lucien van de Velde, Antwerp
Estimated $25,000-35,000 SOLD $69,750.00
|A SUPERB BAULE GBEKRE MONKEY FIGURE
LOCATION ESTIMATE AUCTION DATE
New York 12,000—18,000 USD Session 1
15 May 03 10:15 AM
Lot Sold. Hammer Price with Buyer's Premium: 13,200 USD
height 20 1/2in. 52.1cm
standing on an oval base with crenelated perimeter, the flat elongated feet supporting muscular calves and a forward arching body with raised
articulated spinal column, the elongated looping arms holding a hollowed vessel to the front beneath the helmet-like head with large raised circular
disks for the ears; fine encrusted varied grey-black patina.
Acquired from Jakariah Sillah, February 4, 1963
Brainerd Hall Art Gallery, African Sculpture: Rare and Familiar Forms from the Anspach Collection,
1974:14 catalog for the exhibition at the State University College at Potsdam, New York, October 1974
Roberts, Animals in African Art: From the Familiar to the Marvelous, 1995: 142, figure 70 catalog for the exhibition at The Museum for African Art, New
York, March-December 1995
Cf. Vogel (1997:224,235,238) for related figures. Monkey figures share some anthropomorphic stylistic features with Baule male masks. The Baule
also express some shared ideas related to secrecy and danger towards women through these sculpted forms. The encrusted patina and the presence
of the hollowed cup at the front in the present example attest to years of libations (ibid.)
A FINE BAULE MONKEY
gbekre, the male anthropomorphic figure crouching with bent legs and rounded hips beneath an elongated muscular abdomen and
broad shoulders leading to arms bent forward to grasp the now missing bowl for sacrificial elements, beneath a dramatically forward
projecting face with flat panel for the face, the mouth with open jaw baring teeth and a domed brow; exceptionally fine and encrusted
height 25 1/2in. 64.8cm
Robert Stolper Gallery, London, 1969
Klever 1975: figure 159
Cf. Vogel (1997:41, 224, 225 and 235) for related monkeys. See also Loudmer, Paris, June 28, 1990, lot 46 for a closely related
figure. The cupped hands of this exceptional monkey figure would have held a vessel for offerings. The Gbekre embodied the
powerful and animal part of the human spirit which the Baule believe exists in each person and lives in the bush. This spirit has the
ability to devastate crops while at the same time warding away evil spirits and thereby protecting the village. The elaborate and
encrusted patina on this figure attests to years of use wherein the diviner would place over the figure, eggs, blood, pieces of yam,
chicken or meat, wine and sacrificial elements used to make the monkey powerful.
Estimate - $15,000-20,000
|Sotheby's Art Africain et Océanien, collection Paolo Morigi SALE PF5027 - 06 Dec 2005 - Paris
SUPERBE STATUE DE SINGE PORTEUR DE COUPE, BAULÉ, CÔTE D'IVOIRE
Lot Sold. Hammer Price with Buyer's Premium: 120,000 EUR
haut. 52 cm
Ancienne collection André Lefèvre
Ancienne collection Charles Ratton, Paris
Ancienne collection G.F. Keller (inv. G.F.K. 153)
LITERATURE AND REFERENCES
Etude Ader, Paris, Collection André Lefèvre - Art nègre, Afrique, Océanie, Divers, 13 décembre 1965 : n° 116
Objets et Mondes, t. VIII, fasc. 2, 3 et 4, 1968 (publicité publiée par Charles Ratton pour sa galerie)
Gottschalk, 2005 : 224
Here, the depiction of a monkey chewing on a root links it, in our opinion, with the aboya statues used by the diviner-healer when consulting the spirits
as part of the practice of mbra (see Boyer in Barbier-Mueller, 1993: 358-362).
This particular statue, characterised by its fine modelling, the vigour of its lines and the slimness of the body which is treated anthropomorphically,
belongs to style 2 ("elegant") as defined by Borremans-Batist (1975) in his morphological classification of Baule cupbearing statues, among which
features the other cupbearer from the former Lefèvre collection.