10 Must-See Pieces at Tribal Art London

August 06, 2017 By: Adenike Cosgrove

September 6th will see the return of Tribal Art London—now in its 10th year—signalling the start of the autumn African art season. Last year’s edition had a strong showing of art from West Africa. This year, 23 dealers from all corners of the world will show a variety of masks, figures, textiles and jewellery from across the African continent. We asked ten dealers to each share the one African art piece they believe visitors will be excited about. Here’s what they had to share.

Lwena Staff, Angola

David Malik

Presented by David Malik at Tribal Art London, 2017

Provenance: Marc Leo Felix, Brussels | Fred Jahn, Munich | Walter and Molly Bareiss, Munich | Sotheby's, New York | Leslie Sacks, New York | Native, Brussels 

“Standing on top of the cylindrical shaft, a female figure rests her hands on her abdomen; she wears a typical Lwena coiffure. White pigment is at the bottom of the staff, a staff with an exceptionally fine lustrous gold brown patina.

I have selected this object for its exceptional beauty and fine craftsmanship. What we can see here is a superb piece of art created by a highly skilled Lwena artist. I only wish to have a time machine to go hundred years back to have the opportunity to meet the carver and watch him work. As Christopher Roy (1997: 352) in his book Kilengi: African Art from the Bareiss Family Collection notes: “This is one of the most beautifully carved staffs from any of the Chokwe and related peoples in any collection“. According to Roy, this figure represents neither a female relative nor an ancestor, but a Mahamba, a protective spirit responsible for the spiritual and physical well-being of the subject of the chief or king who owned the staff.”

Yoruba Gelede Mask, Nigeria

Ian Shaw

Presented by Ian Shaw at Tribal Art London, 2017

“I just love this Gelede mask from the Yoruba people of South West Nigeria. It is a fine old mask and would have been used many times at various festivals. This mask must have brought good harvests and lots of children for it to have been painted so regularly and treated well. Just a fine piece with beautiful detail on the ribbon.”

Red Dinka Corset, Sudan

Kezhia Orege

Presented by Kezhia Orege at Tribal Art London, 2017

“This Dinka corset/bodice is unique and rare. The bead work is an arduous task that is time consuming and complex to make. But is also fascinating for its romanticism; it is a message to eligible male suitors, that the female wearer is ready for marriage—better than any singles cocktail bar or online dating! Jokes aside, the mid-19th century craftsmanship is beautiful and the corset’s vibrant colours of glass beads, cowrie shells, fibre and hide, makes it a unique centre piece for interior design.”

Lobi Pot, Burkina Faso

Bryan Reeves

Presented by Bryan Reeves at Tribal Art London, 2017

“Pots in Africa are not just valued as containers but as indicators of social and economic standing. Often revered as sacred vessels, Lobi pots were used in temples and homes across West Africa. The surface of the Lobi pot is spiked to act as a deterrent to evil spirits; these pots were often filled with medicinal materials and placed in a special room or space with other spiritually powerful objects and figures.”

Nsapo-Nsapo Figure, Democratic Republic of Congo

Emmanuel Ameloot

Presented by Emmanuel Ameloot at Tribal Art London, 2017
First half 20th century. Ex Belgium collection.

"A fine and striking fetish figure used for ceremonial purposes."

Igbo Ancestor Figure, Nigeria

John-Paul Raad

Presented by John-Paul Raad at Tribal Art London, 2017

”I am very drawn to this carving because it is pure ‘Modern Art’ and although simple and modest it has a huge presence. This piece has clearly been carved by an accomplished carver who, through the stylisation and simplicity of his carving, conveys maturity, movement, and great strength.

A very unusual seated Igbo ancestor figure with indeterminate ‘sex’ wearing a hat, circa 19th century, with Igbo ichi scarification on the forehead which denotes nobility.

What is interesting is that stylistically, it is very different from most Igbo carvings and shows influence from neighbouring northern tribes to the Igbo. Obviously this figure was at one time of great importance to the household or village that worshipped it as the figure has had numerous sacrifices made to it and has been voraciously ‘fed with blood’. In the past, the figure would have been clothed and adorned.”

Small Zulu Maternity Figure, South Africa

Sam Handbury-Madin

Presented by Sam Handbury-Madin at Tribal Art London, 2017

“What I really like about this carving is the delicate nature of the subject—there is no greater bond between mother and child and this is a common theme in African art. The carving is well executed by a skilled hand, with a highly polished surface, in a simple sensitive pose. The elaborate hair style and the baby slung across the back, peeking out from the sling strapped to the body, in my opinion just add to the appeal of this charming sculpture.”

Mahdi Jibba Tunic, Sudan

Adam Prout

Presented by Adam Prout at Tribal Art London, 2017

“This very fine tunic would have belonged to a high ranking leader in the Mahdist army. It likely dates to the period just after the fall of Khartoum, at which point the Mahdist army acquired British manufactured wool, probably taken from uniforms.

The panels represent the virtues of poverty and humility; the small pocket would have held a charm consisting of leather wrapped pages of the Koran. Very few examples of this quality exist outside of museum collections.”

Kabyle Necklace, Algeria

Cordelia Donohoe

Presented by Cordelia Donohoe at Tribal Art London, 2017

“This is an important Kabyle necklace from the first half of the 20th century. The necklace is made of silver, enamel and coral hung on the original strings. Worn by a married woman of high social status, the quantity of coral used makes it a fine and well preserved example.”

Ligbi Mask, Ivory Coast

Mark Eglinton

Presented by Mark Eglinton at Tribal Art London, 2017

Provenance: Philippe Larue, Paris | Michel Koenig, Brussels | Alain Naoum, Brussels |
Publications: Arts d'Afrique Noire, no.117, 2001 | Tribal Art Magazine, #81, autumn 2016:53
Auctions: Ader-Ader-Picard-Tajan, Paris, Arts Primitifs, 11 December 1972, Lot 80 | Loudmer, Paris, Arts Primitifs, 14 May 1990, Lot 166

“A very fine and rare example of a Ligbi mask from the Ivory Coast. This mask measures 30cm in height and is made of wood, pigments and cloth. This mask comes with excellent provenance.


The event catalogue is now available; you can browse through the full list of exhibitors and plan which lectures to attend.

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