Culture

• Function of the statues

The Nok civilization clearly divided their gestures and attitudes according to the sexes and also very likely according to their function in the hierarchic order of society. These column-statues over which experts ponder were not designed for funereal use, excluding those that were buried with the high-ranking personages they represented. Neither were they roof ornaments for the huts reserved for worship, as Bernard Fagg suggested, but rather objects of veneration in sacred places, religious representations of kings, queens, priests, soothsayers, wizards, gods and goddesses that today no one would recognize.

• Representation of the body

The codified body representations are quite simple: women are always represented in a standing position, hence the term column-statue, the arms either falling to the sides of the body or one hand, sometimes both, crossed over the breasts. In the latter position, they seem to carry a whip, a flagellum, or a fly swatter on their shoulder.

The sculptures of men are more complex, some seated with one knee up (in a pose of genuflection) or kneeling on one or both knees, either on the ground or on an overturned gourd, or on a stool in the shape of a diabolo. Their attitudes are all marked with dignity, nobility, and serenity and the figures express a tranquil smile, a little mocking but benevolent, protective, reassuring.

• Representation of the faces

The Nok aesthetics too, have their rules: according to African proportions, the head represents a third or a quarter of the height of the body, whereas the classical Greco-Roman canons have fixed the proportion to 1/7th. First, the eye attracts attention by its size. It is sometimes shown as a circular arc, sometimes as a triangle above which the eyebrow counterbalances the curve of the upper eyelid. The eye is triangular, and always hollowed out. The arch of the brow and the eyebrows are well defined, the forehead high, the nostrils dilated, the lips thick and fleshy, sometimes showing well delineated teeth. The ear is prominent and very long, and men have exceptionally well indicated hair attributes: a beard trimmed into a point, a thin moustache in relief, a crown of hair, or a goatee. Particular care is given to the art of the hairstyle, both for the female and the male subjects. Costumes, jewels, fabrics and clothes perfect this refined statuary style.