Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Queen Mother Idia Pendant Mask

The cold, all knowing stare of the Queen Mother Idia from Benin --an ancient West African empire--was what initially attracted to me this pendant sculpture. And this powerful gaze is emphasized by Idia's bulbous eyes as well the fact this piece was rendered in ivory. Furthermore, once i found out the back story regarding Idia I was further intrigued. 

As it turns out Idia was the mother of a powerful king of Benin whom went by the name of Esigie, and this portrait was to show his appreciation for his mother's loyalty as well as her role in making him a powerful king.  And like in most West-African sculptures the guild of royal ivory carvers have taken certain liberties with the subject's appearance by distorting form to create an abstracted of Idia. It is withen this abstracted form which I find this mask influence on Western Art.

For centuries the general stereotype perpetuated throughout the world was that Africa was a backward continent, with no contribution to society. However, artists such as Pablo Picasso and by default the cubist movement drew most of their influence from African sculptures and the distortion of the subjects created withen the peices. And though many artists now credit sculptures such as these for inspiring their thought processes, the Queen Mother Idia Pendant Mask continues to be denied the true glory she deserves

The Queen Mother Idia is currently involved with a controversy regarding right to ownership between the Nigerian government--which was the Benin Empire--and the British Museum. Sometime around 1897 the British invaded the Benin empire and stole as many as 3000 pieces of art from the king's palace. Flash forward to current times and The Queen Mother Idia Pendant Mask is still being held in the British Museum as they refuse the insistent demands of the United Nations as well as the Nigerian government to return this mask which was forcefully taken. Additionally the mask was put up for a public auction but protests by Nigerians who reside in Great Britain, as well the efforts of people from all walks of life, the sale was canceled. However the mask still has yet to be returned to its rightful domain, so the battle continues to be waged and the controversy regarding this piece continues to grow. And it is for these reasons I find the Queen Mother Idia Pendant Mask to be very intriguing.


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