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Art Gallery the Eye and the Hand

Sculpture dedicated to Gou divinity of wrought iron and war
Work iron 168cm in height made before 1858 by Akati Ekplékendo
Current Republic of Benin

Lauren Papet, Ecole du Louvre

Arrival in French collections and identification problems

This statue has been reported in France in 1894 by Captain Eugene Fonssagrives following the conquest of Dahomey. It belonged to the spoils of war found in the palaces of Abomey, abandoned by the fleeing King Behanzin, who himself had perhaps made on the side in preparation for the French attack in the hope that the god help protect the kingdom on its most vulnerable border. She was then given directly to the Trocadero Museum of Ethnography, the current Museum of Man (recorded April 30, 1894).

First Fonssagrives was presented as was a representation of Ebo, patron god of Ouidah thesis refuted by Maurice Delafosse in 1894, indicating that the divinity of Ouidah is not the serpent but Ebo Dan. The name "Ebo" would have probably been given Fonssagrives response when he asked what the object (Bo meaning receptacle of supernatural forces). She was named Gou, its present name after World War II, his resemblance to the voodoo (god) of iron and protector of the forge, metal and war have been considered fairly obvious.

Technical Achievement

Government also has a variety of techniques to work with iron: forged, rolled, hammered, nailed and riveted. The metal used is made of scraps of European origin (rails, iron bars, bolts, chains of slaves etc..). He was working relatively fine leaf surface - especially the face and tunic - on an internal structure that gives the statue its stiffness. It is attached to a base metal and wears a round hat secured by a bolt which hangs a bell-terminated string. It seems that this is a hat with sacrifices, or asen - metal portable altar for the souls of the dead - to allow the statue to receive libations and sacrifices (Delafosse is itself noticed traces of blood).

Features of this statue

This statue was exhibited in Abomey, in a military shrine located in the palace. She was surrounded by a circle of swords and machetes larger than life, planted in the ground (now kept in the museum of Abomey) and rocks used as buffers and sharpeners (symbolizing the continuity of the kingdom) . As bocio (protective figure), it was supposed to provide the sovereign military victory and protect soldiers from their enemies: they placed offerings at his feet before any major battle. Various materials inserted magic on its surface gave him a religious power.

She had a religious function but also a political function. It was meant to gather pledges of action and the challenges set forth by the warriors during the campaign starts. On this occasion, the building was called the "house of Wrath (adanjeho). The statue and the arms had been commissioned by Glélé immediately after his accession to the throne and were exhibited for the first time in memorial ceremonies in honor of his father Guézo. Moreover, Gu is a god of divination sign attached to the king Glélé, one of whose names-devisesétait "Basa the Brave, gave birth to Gu, revenge will be carried out" is a figure closely related to the person Glélé .

Gu is designed gold in his cosmogony as an operating principle that is not embodied in an individual. Altars consist of a clod of earth, located in the courtyard houses in Benin, which is deposited on all the metal that you can find (for example bolts or keys). Government holds the keys to the violence, his followers will therefore protégés.Akati Ekplékendo breaks with tradition by translating the concept into a character with special attributes.

Gou objects: a turbulent history

Gu is barefoot, except his hat, he is dressed as a tunic flared (kansawo), coated with a thin layer lumpy. The tunic is crafted using two sheets of metal, and scale required is made for each leaf, three strips evoking the work of tailors (we keep copies of such a garment).

The cap consists of a plateau studded with miniature instruments into 11 iron reminiscent of the diversity of functions of the deity:

- Farm with a hoe

- Warrior with spear, sword, and dagger goubasa ataklé Max (Maxi or Mahi live north of Abomey)

- Fish with a hook

- Religious undulating snake with Dan and the ax of thunder Hébiosso confirming the proximity of the voodoo Gou

Jean Tornay note that the gun trafficking, yet widespread in the kingdom of Dahomey in the 19th century lost that set. He said that the gun was perhaps the artist's weapons hunters rather than warriors, or so he has discarded the gun because in his mind, Gou should be liable for any foreigners.

1. sosivi: ax Hèbioso, god of thunder. The form of the ax is akin to that of Oshea Shango (Yoruba god of lightning) and Yoruba (statues of young girls whose head is crowned with an ax double figures and combine the power of lightning and fertility)

2. kponuhwan "stick-after-launch"

3. Dan xèlè: symbol of Dan, the python Arc-en-Ciel another power voodoo (Dahomey means "In the Belly of the Snake").

4. nutonu: punch

5. hwi: knife

6. Alin: hoe

7. kponuhwan ken no: harpoon

8. atakla: weapon for melee.

9. gudaglo: a kind of saber gubasa without etched pattern. This may also represent a hammer forging

10. glankpazunvazunva, sickle (sickle used in the work of clearing, but can also be a weapon)

11. Mlene: hook

12. alingle, bell swing internal use by bokonon, became priests of the cult of Ifa, the great ancestor of the Yoruba Orisha. It is hooked to the ring by a chain.

Government holds in his hands two objects. Right gubasa sword, knife pierced. According to some authors the circle refers to the diamond pattern in the space of absolute danger. The opposite triangles and the diamond below provide the authority said ace, ie the ability to complete a mission. The second attribute is a bell, kpanlingan used to attract the attention of voodoo, to pace the prayers and chanting the Litany of royal names. It is an instrument of peace and dialogue that opposes the sword, an instrument of war.

Gou attributes have had a turbulent history:

* Maurice Delafosse in 1894 indicates that Gou has "two bells hanging in the back, attached by chains to two of the ornaments of the hat." However, by 1895, the photographs show only a backbone chain adorned with a single bell.
* During the exhibition "African Negro Art" in New York in 1935, one can see that Govern not lift up sword in hand but only its bell, but not right and left.
* Then, the bell disappears. A photograph from 1938 or 1939 (JazzMagazine) returns an image of a Gov with empty hands.
* In the mid 90's the sword and the bell be returned. The sword appears to be original (found in the museum's reserves in 1969 but said of unknown provenance), but experts have doubts about the bell. Indeed, the early twentieth century photographs show a bell crafted entirely of metal, but the new has a wooden handle.

Akati Ekplékendo and place of the artist in the royal courts

He is an artist originally from his Doumé (north-west of the capital Abomey), which cited cons Glélé (king of Dahomey from 1858 to 1889) led an expedition in the first year of his reign, his first personal victory. Akati Ekplékendo, already at that time a renowned sculptor, was captured during the battle, made a prisoner of war and installed in a blacksmith shop of the palace. Some authors think that it would begin shipping this only to retrieve the artist.

Jean Laude wrote in 1966: "For not in the company, position analogous to that of European artists, the sculptor is not black, so far, a modest and anonymous performer. This anonymity can weigh heavily on the understanding of a work. If, with a margin for error, we can determine the ethnic origin of a sculpture, often stop our knowledge. " Indeed it is very rare that we know the name of the author of a work of African art earlier in the twentieth century. We can cite the "Master of Buli (Chintu Ngongo ago), the" Master of the cascading hair, Kamten (who created the display kept in gourds to MQB and perhaps Queen Banso) and Sosa Adede, author of statues and Glèlè Behanzin, they also kept the MQB.

Even if these are the works in wood that dominate the African artistic production, blacksmiths held a special place in society. They are both the artisans who make iron tools or weapons (which needs a people of farmers and hunters), they are also the only authorized carriers to carve images of worship and they have a role peacemaker or mediator between members of society and between the world of the dead and the living, and finally they are sometimes sculptor, given the importance of their role in the creation myths and their technical skills.

An exceptional work

By Jean Laude considered as "one of the masterpieces of world sculpture, this statue is the only iron statue of a human scale known from Africa. It is also exceptional because the metal that constitutes the skeleton is articulated. One can also note that Gou wears a loincloth, indicating that Akati Ekplékendo first created a character according to the canons of sculpture bocio, then dress to meet the royal command. The work is also interesting in the rendering of movement, despite the stiffness of the figure and the extent of frozen clothing: thin legs seem to move.

Some other Gou from the same cultural area are documented. They are wooden and the same size, or metal and smaller.

· Glélé also executed in wood covered with hammered copper, the figure of a warrior god associated with the sign of divination, which was installed near the main gate of Abomey, to protect the city and has Guézo dedicated to his father (in the Musée Dapper, H105cm).

· A third royal warrior-size sculpture, called Daguesu, is known to us through representations of fabrics and bas-reliefs. The original was apparently in his mouth he ax-iron thunder, reference to the god of lightning Hèbioso, who had invested the statue of the power to attract military victory (with fabric appliqués, early twentieth century, Collection Curtis Galleries, Minneapolis).


Africa. The Art of a Continent, exhibition catalog, Royal Academy of Arts (October 4, 1995 - 21 January 1996), London, Prestel, 1996
Mr. J. BITON in KERCHAHE (Ed.), Sculpture. Africa, Asia, Oceania, Americas, Paris, Reunion des Musees Nationaux, 2000
Diakonoff S., The soul of Africa. Masks and sculptures, Paris, Les Editions de l'Amateur, 2006
LAUDE J., The Arts of Black Africa, Paris, The Pocket Book, 1966
S. Preston Blier, The Royal Art of Africa, Paris, Flammarion, 1997

Page about the play, directed by Joseph and Serge Tornay Anand, a professor at the Muséum National d'Histoire Naturelle (MNHN), head of the African collections and former Director of the Museum of Man


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