Nigeria, Abeokuta area, Yoruba, Ogboni
brass iron - height: 26cm
This anthropomorphic brass head set on an iron pin is referred to as edan ogboni, which is a ritual object made by the Ogboni or Osugbo society - which mainly consists of senior and esteemed members of Yoruba communities. It is given to initiates to purify their spirit and to connect them to the earth. This sacred object originally consisted of two figures – one male and one female - joined by a brass chain attached to a loop on top of their heads. It is difficult to distinguish the gender of the present figure, as only the face is depicted. Edan ogboni also functioned as indications of membership and the sculptures remained in the possession of its owner until their death.
Edan ogboni sculptures are generally primordial and linear in form. A comparable and intact example can be found in the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York; similar to the present head, both faces are encircled by small loops from ear to ear underneath the chin following the jawline. Yoruba people are well known for working with brass, as it was the prime material used for shine furniture and insignia. This head is finely detailed and although small in size, radiates a powerful energy. The face displays typical features of edan sculptures found in the Abeokuta region, including a well-pronounced nose, protruding forehead and bulging almond shaped eyes with encircled eyelids. The crescents decorating the forehead could be interpreted as a rendering of ‘the edan bird’, which was believed to protect Ogboni members.
The reverse of similar edan ogboni heads aren’t always decorated, but this head shows fine incisions creating horizontal ladder patterns, demonstrating the mastery of the Ogboni brass artist. Whilst the head is well preserved, a small gap can be seen on the reverse of the figure’s neck, exposing its clay centre. Edan sculptures were commonly modelled in clay, as the material has spiritual meaning, associating the sculpture to the earth.
Collection Ursula Voorhuis, The Netherlands, 1976
Collection Gerard Schraverus, The Netherlands, 1976 - 2001
Private Collection, Belgium, 2001 – 2020
AHDRC INVENTORY NUMBER
Adepegba, C.O. Yoruba Metal Sculpture. Ibadan: Ibadan University Press, 1991.
Berns, Marla. Àgbáyé, Yoruba Art in Context: Exhibited at the UCLA Museum of Cultural History, Winter, 1979. Los Angeles: University of California, 1979.
Slogar, Christopher. “Carved Ogboni Figures from Abeokuta, Nigeria.” in African Arts, Vol. 35, No. 4 (2002): pp.14-27+91-92
Herbert, Eugenia W. Red Gold: Copper in Precolonial History and Culture. Wisconsin: University of Wisconsin Press, 2003.
Williams, Denis. “The Iconology of the Yoruba “Edan Ogboni””. in Africa: Journal of the International African Institute, Vol.34, No.2 (1964): pp.139-166.
 C. O. Adepegda, Yoruba Metal Sculpture, (Ibandan: Ibandan University press, 1991), p.32
 Eugenia W. Herbert, Red Gold: Copper in Precolonial History and Culture, (University of Wisconsin Press, 2003), p.255
 Denis Williams mentions that pigeons were sacrificed during the making process of an edan sculpture, the pigeon being a symbol of vigilance. See: Denis Williams, “The Iconology pf the Yoruba “Edan Ogboni””, in Africa: Journal of the International African Institute, Vol.34, No.2 (1964): p.144 and https://collections.dma.org/artwork/5326866, lastly visited 23/11/2020
 Williams, p.144