Colonial Statues from Ivory Coast

Colonial statues are a genre of wooden figurative sculpture within African Art which originated during the colonial period. The statues commonly depict European colonial officials such as civil servants, doctors, soldiers or technicians or Europeanised middle-class Africans. They are often characterised by recurrent decorative motifs, such as suits, official uniforms or tobacco pipes, and are painted in bright or glossy colours with vegetable-based paints.

As a genre, colonial statues originated in West Africa, predominately among the Baoule in Ivory Coast. It achieved international popularity after WWII and after decolonisation. It has been argued that the genre originated as an African response to colonisation and the repression at the hands of the colonial state. It is debated whether the statues were originally seen as satirical caricatures of colonial officials or simply depictions of new subjects in local styles. Whether the original statues were intended to be purely ornamental or also served a ritual function is also debated by anthropologists.

The figures vary in height, from less than a foot tall to over 2 metres. But they are almost uniformly lanky and lean, providing a dramatic and modern silhouette. Compared with some of the more reverential carvings created by indigenous Africans, the Colon statues appear to be relatively lighthearted caricatures of an imperialist cast of characters.




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