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Photo credit: Herbert F. Johnson Museum of Art, Cornell University

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Title: Nyansabuakwa
Medium: Wood
Dimensions: h: 27 1/4 in. (69.2 cm)
Credit Line: Gift of the African Students Association of Ithaca, presented to Cornell in commemoration of its 100th anniversary
Object Number: 65.469
This carving was made by the Nigerian artist Lamidi Olonade Fakeye. The title of this work, Nyansabuakwa, is a Ghanaian word (Kwahu-Twi language) that loosely translates to “storehouse of wisdom.”

Lamidi Olonade Fakeye was the descendant of a family of Yoruba carvers and received training in the art of traditional Yoruba wood carving as a young boy. In his twenties, Fakeye apprenticed under the renowned woodcarver George Arowoogun at the Roman Catholic workshop of Oye Ekiti. Fakeye’s choice of subject matter was vast; having converted from Islam to Christianity, he drew on these influences as well as traditional Yoruba religious and secular themes.

The artist was born in Nigeria and maintained his studio there.

Like other Yoruba artists, Fakeye worked from a solid block of wood, carving with an adze and other metal woodcarving tools. This sculpture is probably made out of iroko wood, a hardwood common in West Africa.

This carving depicts two figures, one on top of the other. Look at the figure on the bottom. He is wearing a patterned tunic and carrying two bags with long straps crossed at his chest. He may represent a babalawo, healers who often carry medicine bags. Notice that his arms are raised above his head supporting a platform, atop which a female figure kneels and holds her exposed breasts in her hands. This gesture is found elsewhere in Yoruba sculpture and signifies reverence and humility. She wears a patterned cloth around her waist and a necklace with a large pendant. Look at her headdress; what does it make you think of? While we may wonder about the significance of the two large pointed projections, their meaning is unknown.

The title of the piece, translated as “storehouse of wisdom,” may be linked with diviners who consult Orunmila, the god of wisdom. When calling upon this god and the ancestors, a diviner may strike an iroke-Ifa (divining tapper) on a divining table. These tappers typically consist of three parts: an unadorned tip; a head or kneeling nude female; and a base, which often resembles a human figure.

To see an example of an iroke-Ifa in the Johnson Museum’s collection, search for object number 91.001.034 in the keyword search box.

NOTE: This electronic record is compiled from historic documentation which may not reflect the Johnson Museum's complete or current knowledge of the object. Review and refinement of such records is ongoing.