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VALLEY 19th and 20th Century African Art: Ikenga (shrine figure)

Analysis of the Bundu Mask


176. Ikenga (Shrine figure)


Extra details:

  • Can be abstract or more naturalistic.

  • If the sculpture depicts somebody sitting on a stool, it symbolizes honor.


  • Ikenga stands for the power of the right hand.

  • The figures, if they have arms, hold items that help the owner get things done.

  • Power of the right hand is always emphasized.


  • The scarification (represented as dots/texture on the figures’ faces or body) on the temple and forehead suggested that the wearer was a title-holding member.



Cultural and/or historical influences:

  • One of the large ethnic groups in what is now Nigeria is Igbo.
  • Among the Igbo in Northern Igboland is a tradition of creating what is known as an Ikenga.
    • They are carved wooden figures that have a human face with animal attributes.

Artist background/influence:

  • Artist is not known.

How the work conforms to the artistic conventions and/or deviates from the norm:

  • Conforms to the art style and culture of the Igbo people.

What impact did/does the work have:

  • Cultural identity, helped people to understand and celebrate individuality and personal achievements.


Subject matter or narrative:

  • A sculpture of a human with animal characteristics (horns).


  • Individuality.
  • Personal power, accomplishments, authority.

Iconography (symbols):

  • This piece was not a portrait, but rather a symbolic representation of power, authority, and accomplishment.
  • The Ikenga is known as the place of strength, it's a personal spirit of one's human achievements or abilities.
  • Horns may symbolize the idea that actions were taken first, with the heads (think before you act).

Artistic style of the work:

  • Stylized: Each Ikenga figure goes by the same principles, but what differs are the little details (for example, what they hold in their hands).
  • Idealized: Each Ikenga is an idealized image or symbol of the personal owner.


Image Map

Works Cited/ Resources



  • Wood.


  • Carved.

Visual/Physical elements of art:

  • The large, long horns emphasize the verticality of the piece.
  • The horizontal forms that decorate the arms of the figure contrast with the verticality of the piece.


Purpose of the work/Intention of the artist:

  • Made to showcase one's power, accomplishments, and authority in personal shrines.

Artist and Patron (Intended Audience):

  • Were personal objects that suggested achievement of their owners, could relate to person's occupation.

Where was the work meant to be viewed/experienced?

  • It would be found in a shrine within the owner's home.


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