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One of a Pair of Shrine Figures

A work made of terracotta.

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  • A work made of terracotta.


Late 19th/early 20th century


Ewe, Aja, or Fon
Ghana or Togo
Coastal West Africa

About this artwork

The Ewe, Aja, Fon, and other culturally related peoples share a religious practice known as Vodun, a word that is also used to describe, in the scholar Suzanne Blier’s words, the “mysterious forces or powers that govern the world and the lives of those who reside within it.” Among the best-known artworks associated with Vodun are sophisticated sculptures in metal made for royal patrons, and wooden sculptures, often unsettling in appearance that are covered, wrapped, and bound with empowering materials. Pottery, however, also plays an important role in the visual expression of Vodun. Distinctive terracotta vessels and figures are associated with individual deities and prominently displayed in temples and on shrines.

Open at the bottom and hollow within, this impressive figure [and its companion, 2005.238.2] is an essentially upside-down pot and was doubtlessly made by a potter. It is heavily stained to the waist with the dripping lines of sacrificial offerings and was probably even partially buried in the ground below that point, as can be seen in a photograph from Southern Ghana of a similar figure in situ. Such figures have been described as protective and as representations of ancestors, and they may signify one of the many Vodun that come into being when an important person dies. Why this figure, together with its mate [2005.238.2], represent two males is unknown, but the pieces’ equivalent size, appearance, and indications of use suggest that they were almost certainly made and displayed together. Each is portrayed with an erect penis, a frequent symbol of the deity Legba that may refer more generally to danger, deception, and trickery.


Currently Off View


Arts of Africa




One of a Pair of Shrine Figures


Ghana (Object made in)


Made 1875–1925




58.4 × 26.7 cm (23 × 10 1/2 in.)

Credit Line

Gift of Keith Achepohl

Reference Number


Extended information about this artwork

Object information is a work in progress and may be updated as new research findings emerge. To help improve this record, please email . Information about image downloads and licensing is available here.


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