Sculptures from Madagascar rarely appear in African and Oceanic art sales. This one illustrated a magnificent pas de deux.
Madagascar, Sakalava or Vezo. a pair of wrestlers, wood, h. 72 cm/28.3 in.
This wooden sculpture from the Sakalava or Vezo people of Madagascar once belonged to Jacques Kerchache—a highly respectable pedigree—and fetched €71,500. The figures wearing a salaka, a kind of protective jockstrap used especially during boxing matches suggests that these are wrestlers. The sculptor has beautifully captured the moment of tension as the two men eye up and judge each other before engaging. The Sakalava are best known for their funerary art in the form of large totems (aloalo) designating tombs and evoking the life of the deceased, and decorative grave sculptures, entirely made of wood. The Vezo fishermen of the southern coast produced similar works, making it difficult to attribute them to one particular ethnic group.
Another rarity in this sale, a couple (h. 70 and 73.5 cm/28 and 28.9 in) certainly made by the Bantu Yao people of Malawi or Tanzania stood tall at €56,640. The man belonged to the Arman Collection and has appeared in exhibitions. The work of the Bantu Yao people is among the most scarcely documented on the African continent, probably because there are very few pieces and this limited number of works were collected a long time ago, says the expert, adding that it seems "that their artistic production was nonetheless connected with various degrees of initiation for young people.” The powerful torsos, visible muscularity, scarification on the back, realistic faces and jewels adorning the nose wings and lips are all details pointing toward this group of people.