Statuettes embody Asante concepts of beauty

By Daniel Fulco, Ph.D., Agnita M. Stine Schreiber Curator

In recognition of Black History Month, we hope that you enjoy this African sculpture in the collection. If you visit the museum, it is on view in the Fulton Gallery.

1 Asante

2 Asante

Asante (or Ashanti) People, Akan Group, Ghana, West Africa
Akua’ba Figure (Fertility Figure), late 19th–early 20th century
Wood, metal, and fiber
13.5″ h x 3″ w x 2.5″ d
Collection of Washington County Museum of Fine Arts
Gift of Dr. Russell Wade, A2314,84.0405

Akua’ba figures in Akan cultures are thought to induce pregnancy and ensure safe delivery of a beautiful, healthy infant. After being blessed by a priest, a woman carries the statuette around with her and treats it like a real child, adorns it with beads and earrings, nurses it, and puts it to bed. These statuettes embody Asante concepts of beauty including a high oval, flattened forehead, a small mouth, and a neck ringed with creases of fat that indicate good health. Most Akua’ba sculptures depict females since Asante family lines are passed down from mothers to daughters. West African notions of beauty tend to emphasize formal, abstract expressions and poses rather than realistic and detailed portrayals to convey concepts and meanings to viewers. Other key aesthetic qualities include relative straightness, good composition, youthful appearance, and clarity of line.

The Asante are part of the Twi-speaking Akan ethnic group, native to the southern Ashanti Region of modern-day Ghana (along Lake Volta and the Gulf of Guinea). The Asante established a large and influential empire in 1670 under Emperor Osei Kofi Tutu I (ca. 1660–1717) and Premier and First Priest Okomfo Anokye (ca. 1665–1717/19), who founded their capital at Kumase(i), a hub of trans-Saharan trade in gold and bullion. The Asante strongly resisted British colonization until 1901, when they were defeated and their empire was made a protectorate after the Battle of the Golden Stool (1900). In 1935, the Asante achieved independence from Great Britain and the monarchy was restored, an important institution that continues to play a role in Ghanaian politics today.

This WeekendArt is sponsored by Mr. & Mrs. William P. Young