Commemorative "Portrait" Head



Commemorative "Portrait" Head


Ceramic, effigy, portrait, sculpture


18th-19th Century


West Africa, Ghana
Akan, Aowin


9 x 5 3/16 in. (22.9 x 13.2 cm)

Object Number



Throughout africa the body of a deceased person is buried often very soon after death. Months or even up to a year later, at a "second burial' ceremony, the deceased person is fully honored during a rite that facilitates their transformation into an ancestor with whom living family members maintain contact. At the "second burial" ceremonies of the Akan, deceased members of the elite class are portrayed in commemorative ceramic images such as this delicate little head , a physical substitute for the deceased, which was once attached to a vessel or a complete figure.

Although this head represents a particular person, it is not a true portrait as the features are stylized and generalized. Instead of re-creating the physical likeness of the individual, the artist focused on the gender and social status of the person through the use of identifying marks such as hairstyle, scarification patterns, and body adornments. At the conclusion of the "second burial" ceremony, the portrait was taken to the asensie (place of pots), a sacred space in the bush, where the family could continue to communicate with the ancestors.

Credit Line

Ex coll. William S. Arnett


Spirited Vessels: Creation and Ritual in African Ceramics, Michael C. Carlos Museum, February 7 - April 11, 2004


© Michael C. Carlos Museum, Emory University. Photo by Bruce M. White, 2008.
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On View



“Commemorative "Portrait" Head,” Michael C. Carlos Museum Collections Online, accessed September 18, 2020,

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