Shield, early 20th century

Not on Viewexpand_more

African shields, while primarily functional objects used in warfare, also played a role as dance regalia during funerals and served as status objects and symbols of identification. Because they were often made for ostentatious display, their appearance—size, decoration, and materials—was of vital importance. As such, shields can be appreciated as sculptural expressions of creativity and craftsmanship, blurring the line between utilitarian skill and fine art. Displaying these four shields from different parts of Africa in the round allows one to see details inside.

The pointed shield from the Ganda peoples has a saddle shape, obtained by attaching two pieces of wood to a central piece. Its surface is decorated with extremely fine wickerwork, and the conical bulge in the center protected the hand of the bearer but could also be used to strike. The tallest shield is entirely made of densely woven wicker, allowing both meaningful defense and swift mobility. Like other shields from the Congo basin, it has a long and beautiful grip board on the inside.

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