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19th and 20th Century African Art: Ikenga (shrine figure)


Ikenga (shrine figure). Igbo peoples (Nigeria). c.19th to 20th centruy C.E.


-This piece was crafted by the Igbo people in Nigeria

-Among the Igbo, located in Northern Igboland, there is a tradition of creating what is known as an Ikenga. An Ikenga is a carved wooden figure that has a human face with animalistic attributes. These figures can be represented in naturalistic or abstract ways. 


-They were personal objects that suggested the achievement or the occupation of their owner 

-Functions as a "sacred diploma", something that commemorates an individual's achieved status or mastery of craft through hard work, discipline, and diligence.


Ikenga = Place of Strength

Ichi = Scarification on Ikenga statue


Image Map


-Made of wood 

- Was created by carving

- The texture of the sculpture is very detailed and aesthetic. The proportion of the horns to face and body is highly detailed.


-The Ikenga stood for the power of the right hand; however, a right hand was not always present in abstract Ikenga figures, rather the concept of the right hand and what it stood for was present instead. 

-Ikengas were personal objects that suggested the achievement of their owners, which could also relate to an individual's occupation. The righthand holds objects that help the owner of the Ikenga get things accomplished, while the left hand usually holds things that suggest the owner's rank. 

-An Ikenga is not a portrait, but a symbolic representation of the power, authority, and the accomplishments of the individual.

-Once an Ikenga had been commissioned and consecrated by a master carver, it would enter into a shrine within the owner's home. 

-The horns on this particular Ikenga are much larger than the entire body, representing a belief of the Igbo peoples that any action is first taken with the head. The horns on the head additionally suggest strength and power. 

Work Sited