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Divination Tapper (Iroke Ifá)

Arts of Africa


These five artworks from throughout Africa display the range of approaches artists have taken to figural representation. They prove that the Western tradition of naturalism—depicting the body precisely as observed in life—is not even remotely the only possibility open to an artist.

The Mossi mask celebrates the female form. While it is not an exact replica of the body, the proportions are relatively balanced.

The Yoruba tapper, used with a board to draw images during divinations, was carved with more exaggerated proportions, owing to both the shape of the ivory from which it was carved and the functional requirements of the object.

The Fang figure has primarily been reduced to a series of cylinders and circles. The legs and hips are conceived as the intersection of two perpendicular cylinders, echoing the cylindrical reliquary box on which the figure sat.

The small Nsapo-Nsapo work and the Salampasu figure take the abstraction of the human form even further by greatly exaggerating the proportions. The Nsapo-Nsapo figure’s thin, extended arms and the Salampasu sculpture’s outthrust chest and flexed shoulders suggest different emotional states for these two protective figures—a tense anxiety, perhaps, in one and a tense readiness in the other.
  • Possible Place Made: Owo, Ondo State, Nigeria
  • DATES 18th century (possibly)
    DIMENSIONS 13 x 1 1/2 x 1 1/2 in. (33 x 3.8 x 3.8 cm)  (show scale)
    COLLECTIONS Arts of Africa
    CREDIT LINE Collection of Beatrice Riese
    CATALOGUE DESCRIPTION Ivory staff. Upper half carved in the form of a kneeling nude woman wearing only a beaded waist band, a beaded necklace with triangular amulets in the front and back, and an elaborate coiffure. The woman holds a fan in her hands. Her face has a lip labret and three scarification marks on each cheek. The pupil of the left eye has an iron (?) inlay. The inlay of the right eye has been lost leaving behind black residue in its place. The lower pointed end of the staff is circumscribed with shallow narrow lines between bands of cross hatching. Condition: Overall condition excellent, numerous hairline cracks in surface.
    MUSEUM LOCATION This item is not on view
    CAPTION Yorùbá. Divination Tapper (Iroke Ifá), 18th century (possibly). Ivory, 13 x 1 1/2 x 1 1/2 in. (33 x 3.8 x 3.8 cm). Brooklyn Museum, Collection of Beatrice Riese, 2011.4.1. Creative Commons-BY (Photo: Brooklyn Museum, 2011.4.1_SL3_edited.jpg)
    IMAGE overall, 2011.4.1_SL3_edited.jpg. Brooklyn Museum photograph
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    RIGHTS STATEMENT Creative Commons-BY
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    Yorùbá. <em>Divination Tapper (Iroke Ifá)</em>, 18th century (possibly). Ivory, 13 x 1 1/2 x 1 1/2 in. (33 x 3.8 x 3.8 cm). Brooklyn Museum, Collection of Beatrice Riese, 2011.4.1. Creative Commons-BY (Photo: Brooklyn Museum, 2011.4.1_SL3_edited.jpg)