Throughout African history, artistic creation has been a fundamental element of the livelihood of various cultures. The Yoruba, of Nigeria, hold the aesthetics and criticisms of art to an extremely high standard, of which they can measure personal contentedness with life as a whole. The Chokwe, from the Kongo, use pieces of artistic creation as a means to invoke spiritual guidance and support in times of need. The pieces being explored for each culture are the nkisi nkondi, from Nigeria, and the opon igedeu, from the Kongo. Each piece derives from a wooden base. They are both well-produced artistic creations that have been purposefully constructed as spiritual aids; yet in all categories they differ in approach, meaning and aesthetics.
Critically speaking the nkisi nkondi statue is a menacing image with a rugged, nail-spiked exterior. Its appearance is initially off-putting, as it a mixture of sharp objects and the figure of a human body, which when imagined in real life is both emotionally and physically threatening. The combination of the body's relaxed state, and punctured torso is a dichotomy that strikes the viewer with confusion and intrigue. The head, shoulders, and legs are disproportionate to the torso, and the wooden body is painted with a sort of white color. A black square drawn on the figure's stomach seems to evoke some kind of open exchange between the figure and the outside world. The quality of this piece is evident in its attitude, as it correlates with feelings of brutality and ruggedness.
[...] In total contrast, the quality of the opon igedeu is held in its craftsmanship and polished appearance. The bowl has intricate carvings of figures surrounding its base, almost all-symmetrical converging on the center figure. This figure holds above its head an extension reminiscent of a ping-pong paddle, the purpose of the extension seems to be a relapsing cover (like on a tea kettle). This cover is also carved with intricate figures, two on each side of a being on a bicycle and smoking a pipe. [...]
[...] The characteristics of the figures on the bowl, along with the quality and care put into its carving, in correlation with the cannons of beauty, allow the opon igedeu to adequately the aesthetic standards and concepts held so dearly by Yoruban culture. The placard under this piece, at the Museum of Fine Arts, says the bowl was “used by the babalawo (father of secrets), a priest and diviner for Ifa, the Yoruba god of wisdom and divination.” The divine spiritual use of this bowl brings the viewer close to the culture, and it's ideas of cool thus making its influence have the potential for universality. [...]
[...] The wooden base of the opon igedeu is also a humanly construction of earthly elements. The bowl however is a simplified connection, lacking the dilution of the wood with other elements and simply sculpting it into an aesthetically enjoyable object. There is a seeming heierarchy of the figures sculpted into the bowl, the foundation being those placed surrounding the base of the bowl, to the two figures on the side of the top piece, to the large bike riding figure in the center of the top piece. [...]
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