Smithsonian Collections

Drum

Image for Drum
Data Source
National Museum of African Art
Label Text
Among the Asante and neighboring peoples, voluntary music associations provide entertainment for a variety of occasions, including weddings, funerals and festivals. Osei Bonsu, the most important Asante sculptor of the 20th century, is particularly well known for the drums he created for the Ntan society and the groups of figures that were originally displayed with them. According to Osei Bonsu, many of the motifs on his drums relate to Asante proverbs and refer to the qualities the society seeks in its members or to the society's relationship to the town.
Motifs include: Lion support: The use of a powerful animal such as the lion or elephant refers to how the ntan group supports the town.
Two breasts: Neither Osei Bonsu nor the elders explained this image but all of Bonsu's drums have breasts.
Heart: "Be patient," all association members should have a motherly heart
Crescent moon and star: While the star is more reliable, the changeable moon is brighter; musical fashions change like the moon.
Round dish and grinding spoon: Grind a palm nut, not cocoyam leaves, or if you are as good as you brag, show it by doing something difficult--like an ntan group playing varied and difficult music.
Cock and hen facing each other: "Although the hen knows when it is dawn, she leaves it for the cock to announce" can be applied to the role of men in ntan and the community.
Elephant and palm: "Only the elephant can uproot the palm tree" is a motif associated with the power of traditional rulers.
Cocoa tree: Many association members are farmers.
Snake and frog: "Every part of the frog belongs to the cobra."
Snake and bird: Like the puff adder waiting in one spot to catch the hornbill, with patience, one can do the impossible.
Man pointing at sign: Now worn, but on other drums, the sign shows name of town commissioning drum.
Description
Drum with breasts mounted on the back of a lion. The drum's iconography includes: a man, birds, an elephant, a snake, a heart and a frog, carved in relief. Drum is painted in red, yellow, white and blue.
Provenance
Robert Portman, Highlands, New Jersey, -- to 1981
Exhibition History
Conversations: African and African American Artworks in Dialogue - From the Collections of the Smithsonian National Museum of African Art and Camille O. and William H. Cosby, Jr., National Museum of African Art, Smithsonian Institution, November 7, 2014-January 24, 2016
Audible Artworks: Selected Musical Instruments, National Museum of African Art, Smithsonian Institution, Washington, D.C., June 25, 2000-April 8, 2001
Thinking with Animals, African Images and Perceptions, National Museum of African Art, Smithsonian Institution, Washington, D.C., March 24-September 7, 1982
Published References
Kreamer, Christine Mullen and Adrienne L. Childs (eds). 2014. Conversations: African and African American Artworks in Dialogue from the Collections of the Smithsonian National Museum of African Art and Camille O. and William H. Cosby, Jr. Washington, D.C.: National Museum of African Art, Smithsonian Institution, p. 238, pl. 132.
National Museum of African Art. 2007. 2007-2008 School Calendar: Featuring the new Let's Read about Africa and the Sounds of African Music programs. Museum calendar. Washington, D.C.: National Museum of African Art, Smithsonian Institution, September 2007.
Ross, Doran. 1984. "The Art of Osei Bonsu." African Arts 17 (2), pp. 32-33.
Maker
Osei Bonsu, 1900-1977
Asante artist
Date
ca. 1935
Credit Line
Gift of Dr. Robert Portman
Medium
Wood, hide, paint, metal
Dimensions
H x W x D: 102.9 x 38.1 x 48.9 cm (40 1/2 x 15 x 19 1/4 in.)
Type
Musical Instrument
Topic
elephant
bird
lion
snake
frog
Object Name
ntan drum
See more items in
National Museum of African Art Collection
Geography
Ghana
Object number
81-20-1