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Pair of Figures from a Shrine Group: Gallery Label - Current


Minneapolis Institute of Arts



Institution Minneapolis Institute of Arts
In the late 17th century the numerous small kingdoms of the Akan peoples in the area of Ghana in West Africa were melded into a powerful empire by the chiefs of the Asante, one of the largest and most powerful of the Akan group. They developed a wide-ranging trading empire whose economy was based on the use of gold dust as the common means of exchange. Asante kings ruled over the area known as the Gold Coast (Ghana) until the 20th century and they still hold considerable prestige and power today.Like all royal systems, the Asante relied on a variety of prestigious objects to identify and honor their kings and others of high social status. Gold ornaments, luxurious woven textiles, ritual objects and carved statues were all part of the regalia and formal environment that proclaimed the lineage, position, and importance of the Asantahene, the King.This group of five figures formed part of a set of objects that honored an Asante king. The figures represent some of the King's relatives and servants who carry objects symbolic of the King's position and power. The pair of figures standing with their arms holding each other depict a couple of the royal lineage, indicated by the round metal disk hung around the woman's neck. This represents a special type of gold ornament worn by members of the royal family on important occasions. The couple is accompanied by a group of four attendants. One man carries an elaborate royal sword over one shoulder. The social status of an Asante man was marked by the type, size, material, and decoration of his clothing and personal objects, including the formal sword he was entitled to carry on ceremonial occasions. Another man carries the King's stool. Each Asante adult had a personal stool which was also believed to embody the spiritual essence of the individual and was therefore of prime importance in their daily and ceremonial lives.The other attendant is a soldier, symbol of the King's military power. He carries a flintlock musket on his shoulder and a small cask of gunpowder on his head. The fourth man wears a specially shaped hat, with the figure of a lizard or crocodile; animals that often appear in the Asante royal iconography. His hands are positioned to hold another object that is important to Asante ceremonies, probably a drum. These figures were carved in the late 19th century by a royal Asante drummer and sculptor named Kwaku Benpoh who died in 1936. He was the son of the Asantahene Mensah Bonsu who ruled the kingdom from 1874-1883. Kwaku Benpoh lived in the capital city of Kumase where he trained with court sculptors at the King's Palace.
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Type: Commentary, Gallery Label - Current
Source: Minneapolis Institute of Arts
Rights: Copyright Minneapolis Institute of Arts
Added to Site: November 21, 2009