Nine Makonde Ebony Wood Carvings, Tanzania

Artist Unknown

These items make up a collection of Makonde Ebony Wood carvings from Tanzania. These figures date back to the 1970s or later and are of better quality than many I’ve seen during my visits to East Africa.
This specific carving tradition, native to Southern Africa, is distinguishable from most art found in West Africa. The material of choice, African Blackwood (or Mpingo), allows artists to achieve the incredible detail typical of their work. This art is both traditional and contemporary, reflecting a tribal past as well as modern response to urban life. Makonde artists utilize tribal myths and stories as inspiration for their masterful work. Animal statuettes and human or demon-faced ceremonial masks are common.
Mpingo from Tanzania can show up as raw material or finished carving in the large and affluent Nairobi, Kenya tourist market. As these carving skills reached Kenya, they fostered the “Airport Art” of animals, masks and human figures. Additionally, Makonde carvers inspired the TingaTinga movement seen mostly in paintings and prints. For more information, click here.