Teacher resources and professional development across the curriculum

Teacher professional development and classroom resources across the curriculum

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9 / Portraits

Memorial Head
Memorial Head
Artist / Origin Akan artist, Twifo region, Hemang city, Ghana
Region: Africa
Date 17th century
Material Terracotta, roots, quartz fragments
Medium: Sculpture
Dimensions H: approx. 8 in. (20.24 cm.)
Location The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, NY
Credit Courtesy of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, Michael C. Rockefeller Memorial Collection

expert perspective

Christa ClarkeSenior Curator of Arts of Africa and the Americas, Newark Museum

Memorial Head

» Akan artist, Twifo region, Hemang city, Ghana

expert perspective

Christa Clarke Christa Clarke Senior Curator of Arts of Africa and the Americas, Newark Museum

In Ghana there is an important historical tradition of making terracotta heads to both represent a deceased ancestor and to serve as a point of communication with that ancestor's spirit when they’ve departed. And these are typically made by female artists who are actually summoned to the death of an individual to get a sense of their likeness, what they look like, distinguishing features. But interestingly when these are created, they’re not portraits in the sense of a Western portrait—they don’t really have this realistic representation of particular facial features. What the artist has done is conveyed specifics of the individual through hair style, through scarification marks, and what we might consider external distinguishing features that serve as a marker of individuality in this culture, the Akan culture. And these terracotta heads are then placed in sites that serve as a shrine or a memorial to the deceased, where they continue to serve essentially as a focal point of devotion in honor of the ancestor and as a way to make connection with that particular individual after life.” 


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