Spirit Wife

Gallery: Selections from the Nasher Museum of Art
November 30, 2009
Spirit Wife
Spirit Wife (Blolo Bla), twentieth century. Wood and pigment.
16 x 4 x 5 inches.
Nasher Museum of Art.
Gift of Andrew and Vera Laska.

The Nasher Museum of Art's African collection includes more than 400 carved masks, sculptures, ceremonial and utilitarian objects, body ornaments, textiles, and basketry, with a concentration in works from Nigeria, Liberia, Mali, Burkina Faso, and the Republic of Côte d'Ivoire.

This sculpture was made by the Baule, a major group in the Akan culture of West Africa, who now live primarily in the Republic of Côte d'Ivoire (formerly the Ivory Coast). The figure shown here is an example of a Baule "spirit spouse."

The Baule believe that every individual enters the world already married to a spirit spouse who lives in the "Other World." It is thought that the behavior of these spirit mates has great influence over the person living in this world and vice versa. According to the Baule, the spirit spouse can ask to be made into a "person of wood," or a client can commission a statue from a carver to represent his or her spiritual mate.

The specific look of the finished sculpture (which becomes more expensive as the carving becomes more elaborate and detailed) is determined during conversations among the client, the spirit itself, and a diviner, after which the client makes food offerings and performs other ritual activities for the spiritual mate. The Nasher blolo bla, or spirit wife, has an elaborate hairstyle and simple carved body.