About This Artwork

Asante or related Akan-speaking peoples

Goldweight Depicting a Chameleon, 19th/mid–20th century

Copper alloy
4.5 x 2.3 x 9.2 cm (1 3/4 x 7/8 x 3 5/8 in.)

Gift of Muriel Kallis Newman, 2007.599

Weights for measuring gold dust were made and used throughout Ghana and Côte d’Ivoire for more than five centuries, from about 1400 to 1900. These weights are either figurative or abstract and are usually divided into an early period (c. 1400–1700) and a late period (c. 1700–1900). During the late period, an increased variety and number of figurative weights emerged, although abstract weights continued to be made. Although used in economic transactions, the individual pieces could also function symbolically as indicators of wealth when placed on display.

Many types of animals, birds, and reptiles are represented in Akan proverb gold weights. The chameleon, which we see here, is a common symbol of transformation but also of wisdom in many West African societies. This weight is cast in the form of a flat-bodied chameleon standing on four legs with an arched back, protruding eyes, an open mouth, and a coiled tail. Its body is textured with rough hatch marks.

—Permanent Collection Object Description

Exhibition, Publication and Ownership Histories

Ownership History

Muriel Kallis Newman (died 2008), Chicago, Ill., by 1980; given to the Art Institute, 2007.

Interpretive Resources

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