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Ceremonial Ladle (Wakemia or Wunkirmian), Dan people

Ceremonial Ladle (Wakemia or Wunkirmian), Dan people

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Ceremonial Ladle (Wakemia or Wunkirmian), Dan people, Ivory Coast, offers a striking abstraction of the human form, where the handle portrays the lower part of a female body and the bowl symbolically represents the upper torso. The artist has skillfully combined anatomical precision with stylization, drawing attention to certain idealized bodily attributes. The solid, rounded forms of the handle convey vitality and productivity, while the robust calves signify hard work and impart a youthful appearance. The legs are positioned slightly apart and bent, adding dynamism to the composition, and the delicately extended feet stand firm on the ground. The position of the knees is emphasized by circular disks that repeat curvilinear forms.

“Artists in Dan communities of Liberia and Côte d’Ivoire have mastered the art of carving impressive wooden ladles that are virtuoso works of sculpture. These ceremonial ladles, known as wunkirmian or wakemia (which translates as "spoon associated with feasts") are badges of prestige acknowledging an individual woman for her incomparable generosity. Oversized (they can measure up to two feet), they are not so much utilitarian objects as symbols of status and the bearer of spiritual powers. Quality of craftsmanship and complexity of design are constitutive of the work’s importance […] To create such esteemed objects, Dan sculptors often rely on anthropomorphic forms and draw upon elements of style developed in other carvings such as masks and figures. […] Other variations include representations of a human hand, animal heads such as goats or cows, small bowls, and a variety of abstract designs. […]
Emblematic of honour and status, wunkirmian are the possession of the wunkirle or wakede, "at feasts acting woman." A title of great distinction, given to the most hospitable woman of a village quarter […] the wunkirle must be of a generous disposition, gladly offering her hospitality to anyone at any time, organizing and providing for important meals, and feeding travellers. […] In addition to being emblems of honour, wunkirmian also hold spiritual power (Himmelheber and Tabmen 1965, 177). They are a Dan woman's chief liaison with the power of the spirit world and a symbol of that connection.”

In 1926, Alberto Giacometti (1901-1966) drew inspiration from the Dan people's interpretation of the relationship between a woman's womb and a spoon's bowl. His sculpture, Spoon Woman (Femme Cuillère), reflects the admiration that many artists of his generation had for the bold reinterpretations of the human body expressed by artists from West and Central Africa.

Lit: Yaëlle Biro, The MET, 2016.

Height: 38 cm
Weight: 430 g

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