Akan Goldweight

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NAK 1015-13

Akan Goldweight Depicting a Man with a Pipe, Ghana

Copper alloy

H: 10 cm (3,92), weight 75 gram

The Akan used the lost-wax technique to create brass-cast weights for economic transactions that involved gold. Stylistic studies of goldweights have provided rough dates for the creation of these works. Abstract goldweights are assigned to sometime between 1500 and 1720. Akan artists also created a variety of figurative motifs in executing such miniature brass castings. These forms, which are less common than the abstract weights and are remarkably ornate, appear to have been modeled in the period of hegemony of the Asante kingdom, from 1700 through 1874. Humans and animals appear as solitary forms, but there are also narrative compositions. Regardless of whether the figures are single or part of a larger composition, their intention seems to have been to communicate a message of collective or personal nature.

This weight in the form of a male smoking a pipe, is a classic didactic figure that can be interpreted in different ways. The imagery is often said to encapsulate the following proverb: “Even in time of trouble we still need to enjoy the little pleasures of life.”

Revised from Nii Otokunor Quarcoopome, “Art of the Akan,” African Art at the Art Institute of Chicago, Museum Studies, vol. 23, no. 2 (1997), pp. 135-147.

Age: 18th/early 20th century

Provenance: Belgian private collection – bought from a gallery in Brussels

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