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Memorial head, Gold Coast, Ghana, 1890-1920

Commemorative terracotta figures were created in Africa by the Akan people in southern Ghana and the eastern Ivory Coast to honour deceased chiefs and other important elders. The sculptures were typically positioned in a sacred grove close to the cemetery, where rituals would be performed with offerings of food and prayers. It was believed that the spirits of the dead lived on in the sculptures, which are also known as mma. In Africa, clay is a material largely associated with female artists, so it is likely that a woman made this sculpture. The figure shows the ideal qualities of a ruler – a long neck with prominent grooves and well balanced features.

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Glossary: memorial head

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