Important Nok Head
Nok culture, Northern Nigeria, 200-700 AD (TL tested)
Height : 48 cm
Provenance Bouraima Bachirou, Lomé Private collection, Belgium
This imposing head was once part of an exceptionally large and important figure, certainly rep- resenting a ruler or a high dignitary. The modeling of the face, with typical Nok features : large open mouth, massive nostrils, protruding moustache and braids along the cheeks, attests to the high degree of artistic sophistication achieved in Northern Nigeria in the first millenium BC.
One of the earliest African centers of ironworking and terracotta figure production, the Nok cul- ture remains an enigma. In 1943, tin mining in the vicinity of the village of Nok near the Jos Pla- teau region of Nigeria brought to light a terracotta head, evidence of the oldest known figurative sculpture south of the Sahara. Although stylistically related heads, figures, animals, and pottery shards have been found in a number of Nigerian sites since that time, such works are identified by the name of the small village where the first terracotta head was discovered.
Most Nok sculpture is hollow and coil-built like pottery. Finely worked to a resilient consistency from local clays and gravel, the millennia-long endurance of these ancient objects is a testament to the technical ability of their makers. This is not to say that Nok sculpture has survived unchanged by time. The slip (the mixture of clay and water used to give pottery surfaces an even texture) of many Nok terracottas has eroded, leaving a grainy, pocked exterior that does not reflect their orig- inal smooth appearance. Most of the Nok sculpture found consists of what appear to be portrait heads and bodies fragmented by damage and age. The recovered portions of the baked clay bodies that have survived show that they were sculpted in standing, sitting, and genuflecting postures.
A smaller and less elaborated head of the same style, with high forehead and streched face, is the in the collection of the Cleveland Museum of Art (1995.21).