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One peculiarity of African art is that the wood carvers usually remain anony-mous. This is because their work is, for the most part, tribal art, which must adhere to a well- established canon and only rarely unique creations. For this reason the wood carvers are seldom known by their names. 

Collectors of African art first of all want to know by which ethnic group an object was produced. The name of the individual artist is, in contrast to the practice in the field of western art, not so important. 

In most tribes the range of variations displayed by carved objects is relatively small, the appearance of sculptures or masks varying only slightly from one generation of wood carvers to the next. 

In this respect the art of the Lobi represents a true exception. Here one encounters a great iconographic variety both with regard to the size of the sculptures as well as to the different forming of details (mouth, nose, eyes, ears, hairstyles, arm positions, re-presentation of the breasts, navels, genitals, legs, hands, feet, etc.). 

One reason for this is the structure of the tribe. It is not a centrally governed community but a widely scattered social entity. As a result, the Lobi have no kings and also no towns but only clan chiefs and loosely organized groups of fortified dwellings (known as Sukalas).

There has therefore been little ex-change of information over the great distances between these groups, which has led to the development of many local styles and sub-styles within the conventions of Lobi style. 

It is by no means easy to assign the origin of an object to a particular place. This results from the fact that the Lobi families abandon their homes every two or three generations when the soil of their fields is worn out and they must look for new areas with fertile land. Therefore, it can happen that even on the scene in Africa one receives conflicting answers when one asks natives where a sculpture was pro-duced (information passed on by Thomas Waigel). 

A further peculiarity regarding the creation of Lobi sculptures results from the fact that in principle every man in the tribe can become a wood carver. 

Piet Meyer writes: “The Lobi believe that there are three reasons why a man becomes a “sculptor”: 
He can be forced to become one by his “wathil”. 
He becomes one voluntarily for practical reasons. 
An inner urge makes him want to become one.
This is why the artistic quality of the objects varies greatly. For the Lobi the quality of a carving is often of a secondary nature. 

The primary importance of a “bateba” is that it fulfils its ritual purpose. Consequently, one has, on the one hand, very clumsy, primitive objects created by the unpractised hands of laymen and, on the other hand, very well thought out and aesthetically ambitious sculptures produced by professional artists who have attained a high degree of perfection from long years of practice. 

“Professionalism” was able to and still can arise when the figures of a particular artist gradually become widely recognized as being especially “beautiful” and “strong”. This can then result in higher earnings for the “artist”, which in turn can lead to the founding of workshops in which the “master” passes on his style to his students. 

As there is relatively little literature dealing with the topic of our book, the acquisition of illustrations and informa-tion has been much like putting together a huge puzzle, piece by piece. 

Our book is above all a “picturebook” and for this reason the accompanying texts have deliberately been kept brief. One special feature of our book is that groups of similar sculptures are shown together in one photograph. This makes it possible to recognize, on the one hand, their similarities and differences and, on the other hand, their sizes relative to one another. Differentiating between the styles of individual wood carvers is sometimes difficult, as there is an overlapping with regard to particular details. The fact that sub-styles have developed within a woodcarving workshop has also not made this undertaking easier. A number of carvers have evidently also been influenced by the work of their colleagues or by the explicit wishes of individual “customers”. In our book  „Anonyme Schnitzer der Lobi“ fourteen carvers or schools of carving are introduced. Not all of the carvers have attained the same level of artistic quality. In order to inject a certain ranking, we have designated four of the carvers as masters (an admittedly objective appraisal). These artists have developed their own impressive styles and have, by means of their high artistic standards, distanced themselves from the broad mass of Lobi carvers. 

Dr. Stephan Herkenhoffour.htmlshapeimage_13_link_0
A brief introduction to the topic