Goldweights have long been used by the Akan-speaking peoples of Ghana and Côte d'Ivoire, and the representation of a step pyramid, like in this example, is a common motif. The oldest Akan goldweights were presumably made of stone, and the shape of abstract or stylized metal weights such as this one might well have been inspired by the earlier stone weights. Another interpretation is that the step pyramid form was part of the Akan mathematical system.
Goldweights are small objects cast from brass used to weigh out quantities of gold and gold dust. They are cast using a lost-wax casting technique, wherein wax is sculpted into the desired shape and a mold is pressed around the wax model. Then, the mold is heated and the wax drained out, leaving a void in the shape of the original wax model. Liquid brass is poured into the mold and allowed to set before the caster cracks the mold open and retrieves the finished goldweight.
The Akan gold fields were an important source of West African gold from antiquity through the 20th century. Gold was traded on a global scale through both the trans-Saharan and trans-Atlantic trades. The use of gold in long-distance exchange was facilitated by the use of standardized weight measurements. Goldweights, based on divisions of the Islamic ounce, were widely employed throughout the Akan area to measure the quantity and value of gold.
Akan goldweights take many shapes. Different sized goldweights measure different amounts and values of gold dust. Goldweights also vary by their aesthetic attributes. Geometric designs are common and are found in the earliest archaeological contexts. Later goldweights take many figurative forms, often linked to proverbs, jokes, and poems. Still other goldweights duplicate adrinka, a system of visual symbols used in cloth decoration.
Goldweights in geometric shapes (such as this one) or with geometric patterns are the most common form Akan goldweights take. Often, three quarts of the weights in a king's "dja" or "futuo" (goldweighing equipment) would consist of geometric shapes, while the "dja" or "futuo" of commoners would normally consist entirely of geometric weights. Besides the gold weights, a person's "dja" or "futuo" would include a balance, scales, boxes for gold dust, spoons, and brushes-- all the tools necessary to weigh gold dust. Among most Akan-speaking peoples a young man would receive this "toolkit" (called "dja" in Cote d'Ivoire and "futuo" or "samaa" in Ghana) from his father when he came of age.
Goldweight in the shape of a solid pyramid, with a small piece of rope attached to the hole on top.
Among Akan-speaking peoples of Ghana and Côte d'Ivoire, goldweights were widely used as instruments of the gold trade that was carried out between the 15th and 19th centuries. However, some of the weights might have had other uses besides trade. Some were used as protective devices or amulets, to bring good health or good fortune to people, or to protect them from harm. The small loop on top of this weight, with part of a rope attached to it, suggests that it might have been used as such an amulet.
Goldweight in the shape of a step pyramid topped by a bird.
Akan-speaking peoples in Ghana and Cote d'Ivore have used goldweights since the 15th century, and consider them of local origin, an invention of the ancestors. Scholars frequently posit a foreign origin for the earliest goldweights, which represent a variety of geometric forms. Some figurative goldweights may also be of Islamic derivation, such as this common bird-on-a-pyramid motif, which has direct parallels in 12th-century Persian metalwork. Regardless of the origin of this particular shape of weight, it is clear that birds occupy an important symbolic position in various Akan societies. Among the Asante, the bird image is common on rings worn by elders or chiefs, on swords and linguist staffs, as well as on gold weights; moreover, bird and bird symbols are used as royal appellations and are recurrent subjects of Asante proverbs.
Semi-circular goldweight with horizontally incised rays.
Goldweights have long been used and produced by Akan-speaking peoples of what is now Ghana and Côte d'Ivoire. The oldest and most numerous kind of weights are the abstract ones, made of little blocks of brass, bronze or copper. Circular and semi-circular shapes are fairly common among the abstract weights; they are commonly interpreted as either the sun or the moon and the life-giving powers of either of them.
A curved stone, originally a facing on the drum of a small stupa, carved with a narrative scene.
A fragment of of the base of a small stupa, with relief depictions of a fence above and narrative scenes from the life of the Buddha below. From right to left, in the order they would be encountered by a devotee circumambulating the stupa, these are:
1) Siddhartha prostrates before the Buddha Dipamkara in a previous life.
2) Maya's dream: the conception of Sidhartha, when his mother dreams that an elephant enters her side
3) The prophecy of the sage Ajita to King Suddhodana and his Quene Maya, that their son will become a cakravartin (= universal ruler)
4) Siddhartha's birth, emerging from Maya's side as she grasps a tree in Lumbini Grove
A curved stone, originally a facing on the drum of a small stupa, carved with a narrative scene.
A narrative scene of the conception of the Buddha, in which his mother Maya had a dream that an elephant (here shown in a small roundel over the sleeping figure of a woman in the central panel) entered her side. The figure of the sleeping Maya is flanked by two female guards armed with spears, each standing in a nich, while donor figures stand at the outermost edges of the panel. This panel would once have formed part of the drum of a small stupa.
In this scene, a young prince, seen at right in his bejeweled splendor, offers reverence to an ascetic. The sage, nearly naked and with matted hair, sits on an animal skin. His right hand is in the gesture of exposition, suggesting that he is preaching to his courtly audience.
The Orissan manuscript pages in this case are good examples of the palm-leaf book format, which dates back many centuries in northeast India. Artists would inscribe lines into the leaf, fill the incisions with charcoal, and often added color. Both sides of the leaf would be used, and a stack of leaves would be strung together through the hole in the center. Manuscript covers, usually made of wood, were placed on the top and bottom of the sheaf of leaves, and the whole manuscript would be wrapped in cloth to protect it from dust and moisture when not in active use.
Shiva stands in an unbending pose and the sculpture is broken just below the knees. He is two-armed and his right hand is raised with his palm outward. His left arm is broken away. He wears a short lower garment with incised lines delineating folds and he is ithyphallic, his upraised penis extending up from behind his belt. He wears simple jewelry, a belt, armlets, a bracelet on the one wrist still extant and a simple beaded necklace. There is an auspicious diamond pattern in the middle of his chest. He has a fleshy face with a full mouth and large eyes, a third eye is incised on his forehead. His hair is done in an elaborate coiffure piled high.
The great Hindu god Shiva encompasses many aspects or personalities, as he has absorbed the conflicting identities of various deities over time. Here he is shown in his role as the divine ascetic, or yogin, unclad but for an animal skin about his loins, and matted hair piled high on his head. His erect phallus simultaneously indicates potency and self-control; it is through arduous practices of self-discipline that he has gained extraordinary powers. At the abstract level, the phallus represents procreative energy that is never exhausted; it is neither erotic nor pornographic to the Hindu viewer. This image, carved from the buff-colored sandstone typical of central India, has an especially graceful stance and sweet facial expression.
The sweeping stripes of black and white that arch across the body of this galloping creature give the appearance of a zebra, yet the long, flowing mane is characteristic of a horse. A series of circles and crescents over and underlay the horse, and the background uses gold leaf.
Artist Nakayama Tadashi has shown fascination with horses over the course of his career, including a series of prints under the titles “Running Horses” And “Ema.”
Ema is Japanese for “picture horse,” yet it has come to be known as a term for wooden plaques that can be purchased at Shintô shrines and used to inscribe upon a wish or prayer. This practice came from the tradition of dedicating horses at shrines as offerings for kami (gods), often in exchange for a blessing. Over centuries actual horses were replaced with horse statues or images. Today, ema votives may not even have a picture of a horse, but other imagery associated with Shintô or the particular shrine.
This print is a precursor to the “Ema” series, which began in 1972. Here Nakayama makes use of gold leaf, a reference to traditional Japanese art, and technique common in his later “Ema” and “Running Horses” pieces.
This work is an abstrated depiction of four cranes and a person.
Kawano Kaoru is considered a member of the Creative Print (sôsaku hanga) movement, a group of artists dedicated to bringing individualism, experimentation, and autonomy to Japan’s centuries old ukiyo-e tradition. His works are often highly abstracted, using simple lines and shapes to depict the subject.
A child ventures out into the deep snow, holding up his broad leggings which are insulated with straw. Behind him, the house wall is plastered with two messages: "Careful with fire!" and "Felecitations for the Spring Equinox".
This image evokes winter in the deep "snow country" on the northwest coast of Japan, facing the Japan sea.