About this artwork
This style of high-backed seat with bone and ivory inlay, known as a “chair of power” or “grandee’s chair” (kiti cha enzi), is a graphic reminder of the complex history of international trade and conquest in the region known as the Swahili Coast. As early as the first century, the region’s natural harbors invited exchange with partners in the Persian Gulf and Western India. Later the Portuguese, Omani, and British imposed their authority on its inhabitants. With each conquering state, newly imported goods and practices took root as symbols of authority and power among the Swahili elite. The upright form of the kiti cha enzichair bears strong resemblance to sixteenth- and seventeenth-century chairs imported from Portugal and Spain, as well as to Portuguese- and Spanish-influenced examples made in India. Comparisons have also been made with chairs from the Mamluk period (1250–1517) in Egypt. In any case, the Swahili version is clearly the result of foreign influences that have been artfully synthesized and reshaped by local artisans. Most such chairs in collections today date from the nineteenth century and were made in large, specialized workshops. They could be found conspicuously displayed in wealthy households along the Swahili Coast into the first half of the twentieth century.
Currently Off View
- Arts of Africa
- Chair (Kiti Cha Enzi)
- Wood, ivory, and cotton fiber
- 125.7 × 75.6 × 72.4 cm (49 1/2 × 29 3/4 × 28 1/2 in.)
- Restricted gift of Marshall Field V