African Woods: collection
The Lobi people of the Upper West Region, Ghana, September 1999

South of the Sahara and roughly bounded by the 15th parallel, live settled agricultural communities. They grow cereals (guinea corn, millet and maize), cultivate shea nuts and herd cattle. In the dry season a dust-laden wind - the 'harmattan', drives down from the desert across an arid landscape.

In the 18th century the Lobi people emigrated to Burkina Faso and Cote d'Ivoire from the region that is today the Upper West Region of Ghana. They have been expanding southwards ever since, either searching for more fertile land and for game, migrating from farms that became exhausted, or moving because of strife between clans.

Within Ghana the Lobi are shifting closer to Kumasi, encouraged by the comparative affluence of the southern towns and cities.

Today the population of the Lobi and associated peoples: the Birifor, Dagara and Gan totals approximately 300,000. Pays Lobi is 350 kilometres from Diebougou in the north, to Bondoukou in the south. It covers the province of Poni and the extreme south of the province of Bourgouriba in Burkina Faso and includes the administrative divisions of Tehini and Bouna in Cote d'Ivoire. Across the Black Volta into Ghana there are Lobi settlements around Nandom in the Upper West and as far south as Bole in the North Region.

Lobi life is regulated by the subtropical climate: a Fahrenheit temperature in the 90's and two seasons. It rains from April or May until September or October when farmers - almost all Lobi men are farmers - pursue subsistence agriculture, followed by a severe dry season. The lengthy remainder of the year is the time to practise ritual, ceremony and storytelling, drumming, dancing and singing. It is also the time of year when the younger men are encouraged to go south, to the cities to find temporary jobs. They are given money to buy sandals and trousers - clothes that will enable them to work on the cocoa farms and banana plantations for 3 or 4 months in order to earn enough to take money home and perhaps buy a bicycle or a cassette player.

The Michael and Marlene Collection of African Art
Our collection began and has remained, on a shoestring, in 1977 with a Baule carving bought in Amsterdam. At first we 'rescued' almost any ethnographical object discovered among the bric-a-brac of junk shops - objects that could be bought cheaply. We avoided tribal art dealers as being dangerously expensive but gradually understood that auctions were events were bargains might be had.

There are more than 300 sculpture-making peoples throughout the continent of Africa; it was impractical to collect examples from each group. We had to make choices, selecting Mali and Burkina Faso in West Africa as our preferred region, attracted by the sculpture of the Dogon and the Bamana, avoiding the more familiar art of the former British colonies such as Nigeria.

In 1997 I was so curious as to who had made these carvings and the place where they were originated, I undertook the First of Twelve Journey's to see sculpture throughout West Africa. On that occasion it was Dogon and Mossi carvings that were the most prized acquisitions. But since my discovery of the Lobi, some years later, our focus has been almost exclusively Lobi, particularly when collecting for the exhibition LOBI and the Horniman Museum.

In recent times, although there are fewer opportunities to add to the collection, we have broadened the scope to concentrate on works made by the people living in West Africa that I have visited - in Togo, Ghana, Burkina Faso, Cote d'Ivoire, Mali and Senegal.