Tshogo/Vuvi House Post
Early 20th cent.
Wood and polychromy
Formerly in Galerie Philippe Guimiot, Bruxelles
Formerly in Dr Andrault’s collection
Formerly in Galerie Kanaga, Paris
Formerly in a private French collection
Anna Demina Collection, Milan
Galerie Ratton, Gabon, Paris, June-September 2017, pp.68-69
The Vuvi ethnic group live in the center of Gabon, between the Offoué and the Ogooué rivers. Like many peoples of the region, they worship their ancestors through the initiatory society of Bwiti or Bwete. This society, resulting from a syncretism between traditional religions and Christianity, developed among the Tsogho, the Vuvi’s neighbors in the West. Organized into a well-established rank hierarchy, the Bwiti intervenes during bereavements, initiations, and regular ceremonial activities. The ceremonies consist of dances, prayers, recitations and offerings to the ancestors in order to attract their kindness. They take place in a temple, which is also the house of men, the Ebandza. This seven to eight meter long building is a projection of the human body, its various elements corresponding to the parts of the body such as head, neck, legs among other. It is also a symbolic representation of the clan. It is divided into two parts: male (right when entering) and female (left); this sexual division is very present in the Bwiti liturgy. The Ebandza hosts the Bwiti ceremonies and houses the ritual objects: masks, figures and musical instruments.
This panel was part of a portico supporting the roof of the Ebandza. Probably located at the bottom of the temple, the portico was composed of two vertical elements supporting another horizontal. This particular panel was one of the vertical elements. High in height, this panel consists of a central plank surmounted by a neck and a head at its upper end, and an appendage forming a tail at the other end. The patterns that adorn it are distributed in a perfectly symmetrical manner around a vertical axis. On the "body", carved triangles are alternately painted in white kaolin, red paduk wood and black soot. These motifs served as aide-memoires for recitations of ancestral genealogies. The lozenges carved on the neck and the "tail" of the panel symbolize the female sex. Since the
carved poles and panels of the Ebandza have been described as paired and represent the first two man and woman ancestors of humanity, it is possible that this panel represents Disumba, the primordial woman, unless he represents Bwiti, the spirit embodying the initiatory society. The face at the top of the panel shows the characteristic features of human figuration in Vuvi art : a flat face, large eyebrows marked with black joining the edges of the face, almond-shaped eyes and a nose and mouth of a very large size in a very stylized figuration. The kaolin that coats the face indicates the ritual role of the object, the white color symbolizing the link with the spirit world. The graphic motifs, the stylized face and the bright colors of this panel give it an aesthetic that is reminiscent of the plastic research of some modern artists.