West African States

1000 Francs Phosphate Mine, 1988

Carved wooden figure (ivwri)1

Urhobo, 19th century AD From Nigeria

This sculpture combines attributes of bird, wild animal and human within a single figure. It would originally have formed merely one element of a complex shrine.

The ivwri figure is associated with human aggression against attackers and focuses on individual hostility against external provocation. According to Urhobo oral history ivwri are considered to be the foundation of a new village. In earlier centuries success was measured in terms of the accumulation or loss of people through dangerous activities such as the slave trade. Ivwri are usually associated with a bold, male ancestor engaged in such activities, and offer protection for the whole community and his descedants.

T. Phillips (ed.), Arts of Africa (London, Royal Academy, 1997)

  1. Information and photo from the British Museum