barakat gallery

Bactria-Margiana Composite Stone Idol
Origin: Central Asia
Circa: 2500 BC to 1800 BC
Dimensions:   6" (15.2cm) high   x 5" (12.7cm) wide    

The now-extinct country of Bactria spread across what are now Turkmenistan, Tajikistan, Uzbekistan and Northern Afghanistan. It was one of many economic and social entities in the vicinity, and was a powerful country due to the exceptional fertility and wealth of its agricultural lands. This in turn gave rise to a complex and multifaceted set of societies with specialist craftsmen who produced luxury materials such as this for the ruling and aristocratic elites. For this reason, the area was fought over from deep prehistory until the mediaeval period, by the armies of Asia Minor, Greece (Macedonia), India and the Arab States, amongst others.

This piece pertains to a civilisation referred to as the Oxus (or the BMAC). Flourishing between about 2100 and 1700 BC, it was contemporary with the European Bronze Age, and was characterised by monumental architecture, social complexity and extremely distinctive cultural artefacts that vanish from the record a few centuries after they first appear. Trade appears to have been important, as Bactrian artefacts appear all over the Persian Gulf as well as in the Iranian Plateau and the Indus Valley. Pictographs on seals have been argued to indicate an independently-developed writing system.

Religion may have been based around deities represented by pieces such as this. However, they are extremely rare. A 2003 inventory calculated that there were at least thirty-eight examples of such Bactrian idols known, and although the number of examples discovered since has increased, the total number of such Bactrian idols remains relatively small. Nine examples have been found in southeastern Turkmenistan and two more in Pakistan. Their significance is unclear. Some scholars identify them as elite members of this early society, while others consider their compelling monumentality to signify that these female figures are depictions of one (or more) goddesses.

Recent Carbon 14 dating of the organic material found in association with some of the excavated examples suggests a chronological position for the group in the early second millennium BC about 2000-1800 BC, and the use of different coloured stone is apparently consistent with this dating. The technique appears to be used for the creation of composite figures of approximately the same dimensions excavated at Ebla. As one of less than fifty such examples in the world, this piece has the quality of rarity as well as an intensely powerful presence out of all proportion to its size. In its simplicity and its inherent monumentality, the figure resonates with contemporary aesthetic taste. This is a remarkable and fascinating piece of ancient art, and a credit to any collection fortunate enough to contain it.

Taino Greenstone Trigonolitos Depicting a Skull
Origin: Dominican Republic
Circa: 1100 AD to 1500 AD

Among the most abundant of artifacts attributed to the Pre-Columbian indigenous Taíno peoples, who populated the Bahamas, Antilles, and Lesser Antilles, zemi three-pointer stones are revered for their unusual triangulated shape, cone- shaped apex and elaborate patterns. Zemis are often defined as everything which possesses magical powers, including deities and even skeletal remains. In fact, souls of the deceased were also identified as zemis. Although many three-pointers are undecorated, this green stone sculpture is carved with an anthropomorphic image on the anterior and circular, maze-like motifs resembling reptilian coils on the posterior end. These characteristics are indicative of a Type I “wrapped snake” three-pointer, however what is particularly interesting is that most three-pointers that are incised with reptilian coils are often paired with a reptilian face. In this case, the face resembles that of a human with a wide, opened mouth that seems tilted upwards, and large hollowed out eyes. The mouth and nose that are tilted to resemble Type III three- pointers. His chin is also ornamented by the reptilian coils, which extend around the perimeter of his face as well.

This green three-pointer combines human and animal traits, which convey not only an aura of strength but also a trance-like state aroused by a shaman’s hallucinogens. The function of such artefacts is still hotly disputed. Many Taíno scholars conclude that three-pointers were buried as fertility charms in conucos or manioc mounds and even in shrines with other zemis. These figures might also be physical articulations of the Taíno mythological legacy. Yet, there remains much doubt over the use of less intricately decorated three-pointers as fertility charms. Letters written by Christopher Columbus suggest that these stone sculptures were created to fertilize the land and encourage fertility amongst its inhabitants. Today, these sculptures offer a unique insight into the religious lives of the Taino and impress us with the boldness of their design.

Olmec Jade Celt Depicting a Were-Jaguar
Origin: Mexico
Circa: 900 BC to 300 BC
Dimensions: 4.875" (12.4cm) high

The jaguar is one of the most potent symbols in Mesoamerican mythology. Often associated with the ruling power of the king, the jaguar was the most sacred beast in the animal pantheon. The veneration of this creature permeates the art of the Olmec. Considered to be the mother culture of Mesoamerican civilizations, the Olmec ruled a vast empire covering much of southern Mexico from around 1300-400 B.C. Today, they are famed for their colossal heads, giant sculptures that first alerted scholars to their existence in the latter half of the 19th Century. The figure depicted on this celt, a type of prehistoric tool shaped like an ax head, has taken the form of the “were-jaguar.” This is the name used to describe this type of figure (a mythical half man/half jaguar) exhibiting the puffy, fat cheeks and jowls of a human baby with the slanted eyes and curved mouth of the feline. We believe these works to represent a shaman in the midst of transformation. These great spiritual leaders were supposed to be able to transform and assume the powers of wild animals. The holes drilled into this celt reveal that is was a ceremonial object most likely hung on a string worn around the neck. Perhaps the celt would assist the shaman in his transformation. Overall, this celt attests to the artistic sophistication of the Olmec artists as well as to the cultures religious and spiritual beliefs.

Ekoi Zoomorphic Crest Mask
Origin: Eastern Nigeria
Circa: 20 th Century AD
Dimensions: 14.5" (36.8cm) high x 10" (25.4cm)wide x 26.375" (67.0cm) depth
Collection: African
Style: Ekoi
Medium: Wood, Skin, Horns

The Cross River region of southeastern Nigeria spreading into Cameroon abounds in cultures that, though diverse, are unified by certain shared traditions that give rise to the creation of similar objects. The most important of these objects are the crest masks covered with animal hide. Apparently of Ekoi (also called “Ejagham”) origin, these mask have been borrowed by many neighboring tribes, including the Igbo and Ibibio to the west, the Boki to the north, and the Keaka, Annang, and Widekum to the east. Skin-covered headdress were used for a number of purposes in certain secret societies. Among the Boki, three distinct societies have been recorded: the warriors’ society, the hunters’ society, and the women’s society. Masquerade performances generally took place at the initiation or funerals of members of the association that owned them , and also at periodic rites connected with agriculture.

The techniques used in the production of skin-covered masks are more complex than those of most other African mask. The subtractive process of carving is followed by an additive one involving not only the attachment of the skin to the wooden surface, but also inserts of metal or can to represent teeth and eyes. Although there are authenticated cases of human skin being used to cover such masks, the use of painstakingly de-haired and softened antelope skin is much more frequent. The bottom of the masks are typically attached to a wickerwork base designed to fit over the head of a normal-sized human. A textile costume, reaching down to the ankles, was fitted to the underside of the wickerwork base in order to cover the masquerader’s head and face and conceal his identity. Through such ceremonial dances, the tribe sought to communicate and mollify the natural forces that preside over human destinies.

This imposing crest mask attributed to the Ekoi tribe depicts the head of a zoomorphic creature with the elongated mouth of a crocodile and the horns of an antelope. In this case, the horns are indeed actual animal horns that have been secured to the back of the mask. The whole of the head (not including the protruding horns) has been covered in stretched animal hide, perhaps even the hide of the same antelope that provided the horns for this mask. Thin metal strips have been inserted into the top and bottom halves of partially ajar mouth to serve as teeth, further enhancing the intimidating nature of this mask. Such a mask would have been kept by a secret society, likely the hunters’ association. This mask was likely danced during ritual ceremonies relating to this association. Between performances, it was probably carefully wrapped in bark cloth or matting and stored in the rafters near a continually smoldering hearth.

Syrio-Hittite Bronze Sculpture of a Deity - X.0346
Origin: Syria
Circa: 1500 BC to 1200 BC

The Hittite Empire first emerged in central Anatolia in the 2nd millennium B.C. By 1340, they had become one of the dominant powers in Mesopotamia. Under King Suppiluliumas I (c. 1380-c. 1346 BC), the empire reached its height. Except for a successful campaign in southwestern Anatolia, Suppiluliumas’ military career was devoted to the establishment of a firm Hittite foothold in Syria. The struggle against the Egyptians for domination over Syria continued during the reign of Muwatallis (c. 1320-c. 1294 BC) culminating in one of the greatest battles of the ancient world, which took place at Kadesh on in 1299 BC. Although Ramses II claimed a great victory, the result was probably more even, leading towards an ultimate peace treaty, a mutual defense pact, and interdynastic marriages to seal the bond. Although much of Hittite civilization remains mysterious and lost to time, perhaps a picture of their greatness can be discerned if one considers that even Ramses the Great found it more beneficial to be their ally rather than their foe. The diminutive size of this sculpture conceals its tremendous power. Forged in an era where bronze was more precious than gold, the value of this piece in antiquity is evident. Most likely, this sculpture was a personal idol that would have been worshiped in the house, attached to a wooden base that has deteriorated over the ages. Holding two long staffs or spears, perhaps this idol represented the great ancient Middle Eastern deity Baal, the god of rain and fertility. Perhaps this is a representation of a past king who became a divinity in his death. While the function of this work is as mysterious as many aspects of the Hittites themselves, we can begin to determine the scope of their greatness through this idol. When held in our hands, we are transported to another time and place, overwhelmed by the ancient spiritual energy that radiates from within this work.