Nok terracottas are the earliest known sculptures from ancient Nigeria. Sculptures of this kind were first discovered in 1943 by Bernard Fagg near the northern Nigerian village of Nok, after which the culture that produced them was named.
The highly skilled Nok artisans created images of great power, beauty, and sophistication. This commanding male figure represents the fully developed Nok style, characterized here by the expressively modeled head with finely detailed features—especially the lips, mouth, beard, and coiffure—and carefully defined costume. The complex hairstyle, characteristic of Nok pieces, is composed of three rows of seven conical buns, with larger hemispherical caps over the ears. The importance of jewelry in Nok culture is illustrated by the elaborate costume, here meticulously detailed and lavishly adorned with necklaces, jewelry, and beaded chains. The appearance of a horn, slung around the back of the shoulders, may identify the figure as a spiritual specialist (shaman). The figure is broken at the waistline, but may have originally been kneeling. Animated and compelling, this is one of the masterpieces of Nok sculptural art.
Private collection, Europe;
purchased by (L & R Entwistle & Co., Ltd., New York and London);
purchased by Kimbell Art Foundation, Fort Worth, 1996.