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Whispering Woods - The Great Lobi Statuary

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Whispering Woods - The Great Lobi Statuary

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This installation and the publication that accompanies it represent the realization of longstanding goals I have always had in mind and have always wanted to attain. Their purpose is to hone our understanding of the many sculptures produced by the various peoples who make up the «tribes of the Lobi branch». 1 Their figures are essentially anthropomorphic, and their names, such as thílkòtína, thílbià, or bùthìba, are derived from the uses which are made of them. The term bùthìba is sometimes translated as “speaking woods” or “whispering medicines”, and that has inspired the exhibition’s title “Whispering Woods”. The sculptures still speak here and now, in a language replete with semiotic meaning. They continue to whisper of that which the spirit of art has infused them with, and of the universal greatness that human works have the potential to achieve. In former times, when ritual cycles and initiations took place or when a mythological patrimony was activated, every “tribal” culture could reach a climax and generate a powerful intellectual emulation, and that fact ultimately brought us some of the most beautiful art works mankind ever produced, independently of any level of technological complexity that a culture had attained, or of any other inherited social characteristics. Lobi art, unlike widespread ideas about it suggest, adheres to this perspective fully, and that is what this exhibition intends to prove. Major Lobi statuary is discrete at first glance. Its lines are pure and simple, embellishments are absent, and the patina is dry. The thílkòtína are usually the most remarkable works. They are representations of “accomplished ancestors”, and survive now as individual parts of the couples they once were and that time separated. Indeed, the word thílkòtína does not appear to exist in the singular. Upon reading the text by Viviane Baeke which follows, one comes to understand that these figures are the culmination of a long process of ancestralization, whose completion also represented a milestone in the careers of the ritualist sculptors who created them. It is interesting to note that the most outstanding examples of such figures are also most often those that appear to be the oldest. There were many figures - some were more ephemeral, and did not have to be so flawlessly executed. Supremely subtle and spare, Lobi art’s brilliance stays hidden - hidden as it originally was in the shadows of a thílduù, the altar sanctuary to which only the head of household had access, and hidden today from the eyes of most people, having remained nearly entirely ignored by anthologies and publications on African art. The times in which Lobi art was considered relatively minor have come to an end, and it now deserves to accede to its rightful place in the pantheon of recognized classical African art forms.

 

Serge Schoffel