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Senufo Artist, Ivory Coast, “Female Figure”, 19th century. Wood, 11 3/8 × 3 1/4 × 2 1/2 inches (28.9 cm × 8.3 cm × 6.4 cm), Fred and Rita Richman Collection: 2002.283, High Museum of Art, Atlanta. © High Museum of Art, Atlanta.

As intercessors to the spirit world, Senufo diviners use sculptures like this one to secure ancestral blessings.

The beauty of these sculptures reflects the stature and prestige of diviners and their clients. 
This figure’s upright posture communicates a sense of dignified authority and its clearly articulated forms have a commanding presence. 
Repeated applications of palm oil make its surface glisten.

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Baule Artist, Ivory Coast, “Monkey-Like Figure”, 20th century. Wood, 38 1/2 x 10 x 13 inches. Gift of Mr. and Mrs. Burton Tremaine, 75.63, High Museum of Art, Atlanta. © High Museum of Art, Atlanta.

Within Baule sculptural traditions, monkey-like figures such as this one serve a variety of purposes and are known by different names according to their place of origin. Such sculptures are usually no more than two feet tall—this example is unusually large—with a square muzzle, pointed teeth, and cupped hands held in front of the body. Some even grasp a cup. The sculptures are always male and typically wear a loincloth made of actual fabric. They are used for divination and for the spiritual protection of families and larger social units. Considered too powerful to be displayed publicly, their creation and use is shrouded in secrecy. In both form and function they share many similarities with the sacred masks reserved for Baule men. Both synthesize human and animal forms and are considered dangerous to women. This sculpture, while roughly hewn, is carved with considerable expressive force.

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 Dan Artist, Ivory Coast or Liberia, “Mask”, 20th century. Wood, 10 inches, Fred and Rita Richman Collection, 2002.300, High Museum of Art, Atlanta. © High Museum of Art, Atlanta.

In Dan communities of Liberia and the Ivory Coast, masks are performed only by men. This mask may have performed as deangle (“joking or laughing masquerade”), the mask of the initiation school, whose friendly, attractive spirit brings joy.

Through graceful movements, it personifies a nurturing female spirit who provides food for boys living away from home in initiation camps.