Africa, Kenya, Giryama (also Giriama)/Chonyi, ca. early 20th century CE. A hand-carved wooden funerary sculpture created by the Giriami/Chonyi people who reside on the Kenyan coast. Also known as kikango or kikangu, pieces like this example serve several functions. Likely carved from nzizi wood, a very hard wood that also deters insects, this kikango presents an anthropomorphic figure with a circular head incised with an abstract countenance that may remind our Modern Art fans of Modigliani visages, a tall narrow body below adorned with stylized geometric motifs including clover-like forms on the neck, nipples, and navel. The significance of this piece has multiple interpretations. First and foremost, the kikangu stands as a grave marker created to honor the koma, or ancestor spirits, and serving as a mediator between the world of the living and the ancestral realm. Individuals worship the koma of their immediate ancestors, and the koma of the whole tribe is incited on special communal occurrences such as famine, war, or the sewing of crops. Size: 69" H (175.3 cm); 69.5" H (176.5 cm) on included custom stand (the post sits within the stand).
See a similar example in the collection of the Smithsonian National Museum of African Art - https://africa.si.edu/collections/view/objects/asitem/People@1576/0?t:state:flow=b611b042-6654-4550-a925-f5601c0660d0
The curatorial team provides the following description which very much applies to this example, "The Giriama peoples carve wood funerary sculptures in the form of flat chip carved posts. Some have flat stylized heads like this example but others have more elaborately carved three dimensional heads. While both types are sometimes placed on the actual graves, they often are kept in the house compound where the elder male of the family can make offerings. The sculpture's purpose is not to be a portrait or mark the location of a physical body as to offer a place for the spirit of the dead. It seems that the tall posts are erected only for men, and specifically for those who were wealthy. Yet they are not permanent memorials. They can only be moved once and are then left behind as the farm is relocated, and are kept only as long as the individual is remembered."
Recently, a Kikango Giryama realized EUR 31,250 at Christie's Paris - Sale 15050 Arts d'Afrique et d'Oceanie (22 November 2017) - https://www.christies.com/lotfinder/Lot/poteau-anthropomorphe-giryama-kikangogiryama-anthropomorphic-post-kikango-6105370-details.aspx
Provenance: private New York, New York, USA collection; ex-Cliff and Barbara Grodd collection, New York, USA, acquired at African Heritage, Ltd. in Nairobi, Kenya
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Age cracks, old divots, and surface losses/abrasions commensurate with age. Nice traces of red and white pigment on the surface.