Called nduen fobara, this screen was originally intended as a commemoration of an ancestor of a trading house among the Ijo people of Kalabari. It essentially celebrated the life and accomplishments of the ancestor, who is here depicted as a monumental figure flanked by two smaller figures representing living relatives. The rectilinear construction of the screens betrays knowledge of European joinery techniques, which the Kalabari Ijo probably learned from their centuries-old contacts with Europeans. The largest and most prominent of the triad, the honoree is clearly the principal focus of the commemoration. A funerary screen of this size would usually have been reserved for a deceased head of a trading concern who had achieved considerable wealth from the trade and status during his lifetime.

For the Kalahari, whose ancestors built their livelihood around the lucrative trade with Europeans, borrowed imported objects in personal dress reflected an ever-evolving value system that sought to underscore the worldliness of their leaders. The figure wears a suit, which is merely outlined with white pigment. His headdress connects him with the Alagba, an important traditional masquerade, though it also resembles a stylized top hat, which has prestigious implications in Kalabari culture. Furthermore, the top hat was part of the ceremonial outfit of warriors, which explains the two decapitated heads along the top of the frame behind the central figure. The central emphasis on military prowess is further reinforced by the fact that Kalabari trading concerns are generally referred to as "war-canoe houses."



Nii O. Quarcoopome

From Through African Eyes: The European in African Art, 1500 to Present (Detroit, 2009)
Artist Ijo, African
Title
  • Ancestral Screen
  • Duen Fobara (Alternate Title)
Date late 19th century
Medium iroko wood, earth pigments, plant fibers, and metal
Dimensions Overall: 48 × 35 × 15 inches (121.9 × 88.9 × 38.1 cm)
Credit Line Museum Purchase, Robert H. Tannahill Foundation Fund
Accession Number 2003.21
Department Africa, Oceania & Indigenous Americas
On View African N101, Level 1 (see map)
(Davis Gallery, New Orleans, Louisiana, USA);
2003-present, purchase by the Detroit Institute of Arts (Detroit, Michigan, USA)