In the rainforest the wood rots. Yet some works of Nigeria's Mbembe ethnic group have been preserved by a mechanism close to fossilization that affected unequally the hard and soft fibres of the wood. These figures have reached in three or four centuries a cracked texture that reinforces the impression of an erosion.
This art was unknown in Europe in 1972 when Hélène Kamer-Leloup bought a statuette to a Malian merchant. She obtained in all by this provenance eleven pieces from this culture that she exhibited in her gallery in Paris in 1974.
Luckily the existence of a complete piece preserved at the Staatliche Museen in Berlin makes it possible to know the global configuration and the use of this art. It is a monumental drum made of hollowed wood. Flanked by two side platforms occupied respectively by the statuettes of a warrior and of a mother, it is 3.30 m wide overall.
In the corpus of this Mbembe art the man is aggressive, sometimes standing. The woman is sitting on the floor with her knees raised, with or without a child on her lap. Her attitude is proud or perhaps prayerful, with the chin slightly raised.
A female figure 75 cm high from the original Kamer-Leloup collection is estimated € 2M for sale by Christie's in Paris on June 27, lot 72. The limbs are missing beyond elbows and knees but the head has kept accurate morphological details.
SOLD for € 1.93M including premium