The art of ancient Africa had a hermaphrodite figurative tradition. They had to communicate with the spirits of the ancestors for their auspices but these emanations were hardly identified, we easily understand why ! It was necessary to catch their power without impairing the fertility.
The Baoulé (Baule) art of Ivory Coast offers this duality. A highly important dual male-female mask whose interpretation remains debatable was sold for € 5.4 million including premium by Sotheby's on June 24, 2015.
On May 12 in New York, Christie's sells a Baoulé standing female figure 50 cm high, lot 605 estimated $ 2M. It is built with a rigorous geometry resembling nested cylinders for the tall neck and the limbs along with a mesmerizing lunar face in slight recession.
These unusual characteristics anticipate the stylization that will be one of the characteristics of this art. It is understood by oral tradition that the spirit figures of the neighboring ethnic groups disappeared by iconoclasm during the tribal wars but the hypothesis of a reciprocal influence should not be dismissed.
By an extraordinary coincidence this woman figure has a male counterpart so close in style that it has certainly been carved by the same artist. This figure of a seated man was given to the Metropolitan Museum of Art by Nelson Rockefeller in 1969 and their common author is now identified as the Rockefeller Master. No other opus is comparable to these two figures.
When they are viewed side by side the man and the woman are very similar even in their morphology, distinguishable by the beard and the sex but not by the breasts which are almost atrophied in both cases. Emerging from the hermaphrodite representation that had been blurring the mystical message the Baoulé sorcerers went to communicate with the beyond through the intercession of pairs of separate statuettes.
SOLD for $ 2.4M including premium