X91.579 Pyroengraved Gourd

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Pyroengraved Gourd
artist: Wilson Mwangi
Gourd and leather
H: 40.0 cm, D: 106 cm (H: 15.7 in, D: 41.7 in)
Fowler Museum at UCLA. Museum Purchase. X91.579


Wilson Mwangi, a Kikuyu gourd carver in his early thirties, works out of Kariokor market in Nairobi, Kenya, practicing the art learned from the renowned Kama Artist Peter Nzuki. The image is first incised on the surface of the gourd, then darkened with a mixture of charcoal and oil. Gourds traditionally served utilitarian functions. Mwangi’s gourds, however, are primarily created to adorn the homes of expatriates, tourists, and middle-class Kenyans. Design motifs include village views, road accidents, baobab trees, and beer drinking scenes. His elephants recur in three basic compositions: a zigzag line of elephants descending Mt. Kenya, a receding line of elephants approaching the viewer; and two elephants facing each other. Mwangi’s elephants are commercially viable; they seem to hold no major symbolic importance for him.

Source: Ross, Doran H. (1992). “Elephant: The Animal and Its Ivory in African Culture”, Los Angeles, UCLA Fowler Museum of Cultural History. page 328