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African Art
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Composite roll-out of figures carved on tusk.
Photo credit: Yale University Art Gallery

Tusk Carved in Relief

late 19th–early 20th century

Ivory and graphite

29 × 2 1/2 × 3 in. (73.66 × 6.35 × 7.62 cm)
Charles B. Benenson, B.A. 1933, Collection
This intricately carved elephant tusk is densely populated with seemingly unrelated scenes. It features European men in various activities–feeding a horse, toasting each other, completing a business deal–and women in long dresses and hats linking arms. They are preceded by and interspersed with scenes of local couples or bearded elders, high-ranking women crouching above a basket, individuals sitting on the ground in front of Europeans, and a hunter offering animals for sale to a European. Additional Christian imagery with curious twists, such as a crucified devil and humans with angel’s wings, completes the composition. This work is a perfect example of how artists used this genre to encode criticism that could be understood by African viewers but remained unintelligible to foreigners lacking adequate cultural knowledge.
Country Loango Coast, Republic of the Congo
Country Democratic Republic of the Congo
Country Angola
On view*
19th–20th century

Arcade Gallery, London, to May 29, 1989; Charles B. Benenson Collection, donated to Yale University Art Gallery in 2004


“Acquisitions, July 1, 2005–June 30, 2006,” Yale University Art Gallery Bulletin (2006): 222.

Frederick John Lamp, Amanda Maples, and Laura M. Smalligan, Accumulating Histories: African Art from the Charles B. Benenson Collection at the Yale University Art Gallery (New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Art Gallery, 2012), 274, ill.

Note: This electronic record was created from historic documentation that does not necessarily reflect the Yale University Art Gallery’s complete or current knowledge about the object. Review and updating of such records is ongoing.