Among African cultures, deceased ancestors remain important members of the community who are revered in the afterlife. They are venerated by surviving family and community members who ask for divine intercession from their forebears in matters related to wealth, fertility, and agricultural prosperity.

Visual representation of ancestors is mostly done with ephemeral and perishable materials such as wood, mud, or plant and animal matter, based upon the idea of the impermanence of ancestral presence in the realm of the living. Ancestral intervention is meant to last for short periods of time, only to be called upon again at a later time when their help is needed. After the completion of veneration rituals, such objects lose their ritual power and left to wither. However, this idea is upturned when ancestral figures are rendered in stone.

This exhibition focuses on NOMA’s recently acquired akwanshi stone monolith from the Cross River region of Nigeria, supported with figures and objects rendered in part or whole in stone from other regions of West Africa. The show speaks to the significance of stone as both a natural element and a significant material in the veneration of ancestors. Although carved stones represent ancestors, uncarved stones may also represent ancestors. Such characteristics suggest the importance of stone to this and other African cultures.


c. 16th century

Ejagham artist, Nigeria


Museum purchase, Francoise Billion Richardson and Robert P. Gordy Funds

Hogon (Blacksmith) Necklace

c. 16th century

Dogon artist, Mali

Metal and stone

Loan of Charles and Kent Davis

Nomoli (Bust in steatite)

c. 15th century

Mande artist, Sierra Leone


Loan of Charles and Kent Davis