UNRAVELING THE ART OF THE LAKE CHAD BASIN
January 8-May 6, 2012
This winter, the Neuberger Museum of Art will display within its African Collection eight extraordinary sculptures by two major groups located in the Lake Chad Basin, home to centuries-old traditions of ceramics and metallurgy.
The spectacular loans to the Neuberger include this unique bold wooden sculpture depicting a horse and rider and attributed to the Bagirmi peoples.
The origin of the Bagirmi peoples remains uncertain and their art unknown except for the Bagirmi carved fertility figures. Ruled by a king in the early sixteenth century, the Bagirmi converted to Islam at the beginning of the seventeenth century. Nevertheless, they maintained earlier traditions such as initiation rituals for which carved fertility dolls were used. By the late nineteenth century, when the French took control of Chad, the Bagirmi sultanate lost its prominence by competing with rival empires.
Unlike the Kotoko who deployed horses in royal processions, the Bagirmi are not known to have used horses for this purpose. Despite its attribution, however, this figure shares some stylistic features with Bagirmi carved dolls: salient nose, and mouth and eyes reduced to slits and the designs, depicted on the front covering of the horse, recall some of the dolls’ coif.