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Analyze the Following Artworks in Terms of Their Iconography: The Hip Pendant Representing an Iyoba (“Queen Mother”), Nigeria

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Present Benin history is the product of several reconstructions that commenced after the accession of Oba Eweka II in 1914. Two central problematics shaped these reconstructions, namely, the glorification drive of cultural nationalism, and the male privileging ethos of a patriarchal gender ideology

The cultural nationalist project of restoring Binis’ pride after the humiliating dissolution of the kingdom in 1897 meant that the first phase of historical reconstruction was steeped in romantic mystification, resulting in a literal account of history (Egharevba 1968, 1961, 1953, 1934; Akpata 1938, 1937). The second phase occurred within a scholarly convention and a view of history that devalued women through assuming their irrelevance in political matters (Bradbury 1973) and through focusing exclusively on European archival materials, giving scant attention to Benin oral and performative traditions (Fagg 1963, 1953; Ryder 1969, Sargent 1986).

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This ivory pendant mask is one of a pair of nearly identical works; its counterpart is in the British Museum in London. Although images of women are rare in Benin's courtly tradition, these two works have come to symbolize the legacy of a dynasty that continues to the present day. The pendant mask is believed to have been produced in the early sixteenth century for the King or ObaEsigie, the king of Benin, to honor his mother, Idia. The oba may have worn it at rites commemorating his mother, although today such pendants are worn at annual ceremonies of spiritual renewal and purification. In Benin, ivory is related to the color white, a symbol of ritual purity that is associated with Olokun, god of the sea. As the source of extraordinary wealth and fertility, Olokun is the spiritual counterpart of the oba. Ivory is central to the constellation of symbols surrounding Olokun and the oba. Not only is it white, but it is itself Benin's principle commercial commodity and it helped attract the Portuguese traders who also brought wealth to Benin. The mask is a sensitive, idealized portrait, depicting its subject with softly modeled features, bearing inlaid metal and carved scarification marks on the forehead, and wearing bands of coral beads below the chin. In the openwork tiara and collar are carved stylized mudfish and the bearded faces of Portuguese

Because they live both on land and in the water, mudfish represent the king's dual nature as human and divine. Having come from across the seas, the Portuguese were considered denizens of the spirit realm who brought wealth and power to the oba.

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Generally speaking, the title of Queen Mother, or Iyoba, is given to the woman who bears the Oba’s first son, the future ruler of the kingdom. Historically, the Queen Mother would have no other children and, instead, devote her life to raising her son. Oba Esigie is said to have worn the mask as a pectoral during rites commemorating his mother

The hollow back, holes around the perimeter, and stopper composed of several tendrils of hair at the summit suggest that the mask functioned as an amulet, filled with special and powerful materials that protected the wearer. Today, such pendants are worn at annual ceremonies of spiritual renewal and purification

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