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African Art
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Photo credit: Yale University Art Gallery
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Photo credit: Yale University Art Gallery

Female Figure

early 20th century

Wood, seed, and string

unconfirmed: 36 1/4 × 10 × 10 in. (92 × 25.4 × 25.4 cm)
Leonard C. Hanna, Jr., Class of 1913, Fund
2011.51.1
This Vai female figure is one of the largest in existence. Such figures depict a newly initiated woman at her “coming out” ceremony, in which she would be presented to her people. The young woman at this event would have been nude or wearing a loincloth and would have been lavishly decorated with strands of beads and other adornments, including European shoes. Her body would have been rubbed with oil to make it brilliantly black, and the sculpture has received the same treatment. Scarification marks on the figure’s lower back are a sign of refinement.
Geography: 
Country Liberia
Status: 
On view
Culture: 
Vai
Period: 
20th century
Classification: 
Sculpture
Provenance: 

Charles E. Mitchell, U.S. Minister to Liberia, and his wife Elizabeth Mitchell, collected between 1931–1933 in Liberia; Charles E. Mitchell Memorial Collection in the library of the Mwalimu school, Harlem, NY, 1930s. Possibly Manet Harrison Fowler; possibly Manet Helen Fowler. Marc Assayag, Montreal, about 2008–2009; Chris Wild, Normandy; David Norden, Belgium, to 2011;Yale University Art Gallery, New Haven, Conn.

Bibliography: 

“Acquisitions,” https://artgallery.yale.edu/sites/default/files/files/Pub_Bull_acquisitions_2011.pdf (accessed March 1, 2012).

Note: This electronic record was created from historic documentation that does not necessarily reflect the Yale University Art Gallery’s complete or current knowledge about the object. Review and updating of such records is ongoing.