A Baule person would have recognized this figure as a waka sran, a "person in wood." For the Baule, every successful sculpted figure necessarily conveys a sense of individuality, as in the approbation "o fa sran!"--"it resembles a person!" Whether carved to represent one's otherworld mate--the "otherworld woman" (blolo bla) of a man, or the "otherworld man" (blolo bian) of a woman--or a bush-spirit familiar, the sculpted Baule figure is a stand-in interlocutor for an unseen spirit.
A Baule man probably commissioned this female figure as a portrayal of his otherworld woman, following the instructions of a diviner and his revelation that the particular problem the man faced stemmed from the jealousy of his neglected mate in the otherworld. To picture her identity and also to ultimately please her, the sculptor set out to carve a person of beauty as perceived by Baule notions of attractiveness. She is depicted with serenity and composure: her flexed legs, her hands at rest on her abdomen, her downward gaze--all impart a sense of a person who is still, quiet and potentially responsive. Her beauty is revealed in her ample calves, her rounded buttocks, the swelling curve of her abdomen, the fullness and potential of her pelvic circle (accentuated by hip beads), her high breasts, her long elegant neck, and the symmetry and perfection of her facial features. Beauty, for the Baule, is also seen in the depiction of scarification--the raised keloids which give the body a culturally imposed, tactile texture that speaks to her individuality while also evoking that betwixt-and-between status of youthfulness when, free from childhood yet not constrained with the responsibilities of adult status, one explores and enjoys physical maturity.
This figure also bears witness to its former owner. It was he who added the hip beads which would have supported a miniature loincloth. He adorned her with beaded anklets and a necklace embellished with two gold jewels and a piece of precious coral. Her lustrous surface is due to the frequency with which he held her and addressed her on the mornings after the nights set apart for the dream visits from his otherworld mate. The figure concretized his waking dreams and made possible his daytime reveries.
Wood standing female figure with arms at sides and finely carved hands on her carved abdomen, two braid hairstyle with incised linear patterns, elliptical eyes below arched brows with diagonal incisions and raised scarification marks between temples, on both cheeks, neck, stomach and from lower abdomen to back on both sides. High breasts, well-rounded buttocks, and flexed legs lead to minimally carved feet on a circular base. Added beads are strung as a necklace, waist beads and anklets.
Samir Borro, Côte d'Ivoire, 1974
Emile M. Deletaille, Brussels, 1974 to 1985
Visionary: Viewpoints on Africa's Arts, National Museum of African Art, Smithsonian Institution, Washington, D.C., November 4, 2017-ongoing
Conversations: African and African American Artworks in Dialogue - From the Collections of the Smithsonian National Museum of African Art and Camille O. and William H. Cosby, Jr., National Museum of African Art, Smithsonian Institution, November 7, 2014-January 24, 2016
Inscribing Meaning: Writing and Graphic Systems in African Art, National Museum of African Art, Smithsonian Institution, May 9- August 26, 2007; Fowler Museum at University of California, Los Angeles, October 14, 2007-February 17, 2008
Dreaming the Other World: Figurative Art of the Baule, Côte d'Ivoire, National Museum of African Art, Smithsonian Institution, Washington, D.C., June 9-November 30, 1993
Maternité dans les Arts premiers, Société Générale de Banque, Brussels, May 13-June 30, 1977
Arts d'Afrique Noire. 1975. (Autumn). Arnouville, France.
Boyer, Alain-Michel. 2008. Visions of Africa: Baule. Milan: 5 Continents Editions, pp. 112, 151, no. 29.
Freyer, Bryna M. and Christine Mullen Kreamer. 2010. "The Collection of the National Museum of African Art Smithsonian Institution." Sculpture Review LIX (1), p. 23.
Kreamer, Christine, Mary Nooter Roberts, Elizabeth Harney and Allyson Purpura. 2007. Inscribing Meaning: Writing and Graphic Systems in African Art. Washington, D.C.: Smithsonian Institution; Milan: 5 Continents Editions, p. 56, no. 4.2.
Kreamer, Christine Mullen and Adrienne L. Childs (eds). 2014. Conversations: African and African American Artworks in Dialogue from the Collections of the Smithsonian National Museum of African Art and Camille O. and William H. Cosby, Jr. Washington, D.C.: National Museum of African Art, Smithsonian Institution, pp. 67, 77, no. 51, pl. 15.
National Museum of African Art. 1999. Selected Works from the Collection of the National Museum of African Art. Washington, D.C.: National Museum of African Art, Smithsonian Institution, p. 42, no. 21.
Ravenhill, Philip L. 1993. Dreaming the Other World: Figurative Art of the Baule, Côte d'Ivoire. Washington, D.C.: National Museum of African Art, Smithsonian Institution, cover, inside cover, no. 1.
Ravenhill, Philip L. 1996. Dreams and Reverie: Images of Otherworld Mates Among the Baule, West Africa. Washington, D.C.: Smithsonian Institution Press, p. 1, no. 1.
Sims, Patterson. 2006. Anxious Objects: Willie Cole's Favorite Brands. Montclair, New Jersey: Montclair Art Museum, p. 71, no. 38.
Société Génerale de Banque. 1977. La Maternité dans les arts premiers; Het Moederschap in de Primitieve Kunsten. Société génerale de banque, p. 40, no. 10.
Turner, Jane (ed). 1996. "Baule." The Dictionary of Art, Vol. 3. New York: Grove, p. 405, no. 1.