Crouching figure - Lulua

In the Lulua statuary corpus there is a class of small, thin, crouching male figures, distinctively posed in a taut elbow-to-knee posture, with hands held to the side of the head or neck, or supporting the chin. The exact nature and symbolism of these figures has been the subject of numerous theories. They are sometimes described as hunting charms that would be attached to a man’s girdle, their unique pose depicting a hunter exhaling ritual cannabis smoke onto the figure to ensure a successful hunt. Elsewhere they are posited to be apotropaic figures intended to ward off disease, to act as intermediaries with the spirit world, or to portray a chief in a state of deep contemplation. Particularities in pose (for example, the hands held to the side of the head as opposed to on the chin or neck) may correspond to specific meanings in these figures.

The present figurine is a splendid example of its type. Viewed from the front, it is rather rigidly vertical in silhouette; viewed from the side, it reveals an entirely different aspect, full of swelling curves and strong angles. The artist has played with abstraction in the folded form, completely fusing the elbows to the knees and creating a strong, closed teardrop shape in the center of the piece. There is a palpable sculptural tension created in this approach and the figure appears about to spring into motion at any moment. The outsized head is noteworthy, carved masterfully on this small scale with a group of crisp and nuanced forms that read somewhat naturalistically, lending a unique personality and great character to the figure.

William Buller Fagg, foreword by Josef Herman. Miniature Wood Carvings of Africa. Adams & Dart, 1970: 89, fig.86.
Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art, Edinburgh, Scotland. African and New Guinea Sculpture from the Josef Herman Collection: paintings and drawings by Josef Herman. 19 July-17 August 1969: no.33.

"African and New Guinea Sculpture from the Josef Herman Collection: paintings and drawings by Josef Herman", Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art, Edinburgh. 19 July-17 August 1969

19th century
Height: 6 in

Josef Herman (1911 - 2000), Suffolk, England
Christie's, Amsterdam. December 12, 2000, lot 329
Private Collection, New York

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