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Richard Num

Free Account, Adelaide

Benin bronze

Memorial head of an Oba of Benin (in present day Nigeria) in the collection of the South Australian Museum. This item was likely one of the several thousand taken by a British expeditionary force following its attack on the kingdom of Benin in 1897. The designs were sculpted by hand, then cast in metal (usually brass rather than bronze) by the lost wax process.

There is a hole at the top of the head, which probably contained the base of an elephant tusk. Scarification marks are present on the forehead. The figure wears a cap with clusters of beadwork, and a high ceremonial collar of coral necklaces. Such memorial heads were usually placed on an ancestral altar in the Oba's palace.

The Benin "bronzes" and other African art forms had great influence in the development of Cubism (see http://www.historyworld.net/wrldhis/PlainTextHistories.asp?historyid=aa39 ).

Read further about Benin cast-metal art at http://www.museum.upenn.edu/new/exhibits/galleries/benin.html and at http://www.ethnographica.com/pages/Benin22.php?project_id=22

An account of the British "punitive expedition" of 1897 may be read at http://www.arm.arc.co.uk/lootingBenin.html

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