African Art

Female Figure

late 19th–early 20th century


25 3/16 × 5 7/8 × 4 1/2 in. (64 × 15 × 11.5 cm)
Charles B. Benenson, B.A. 1933, Collection
Mende female figures represent ideal beauty in the form of young women who have just been initiated into adulthood. The small beaded waist garment, fine braiding, and scarification on this object signal this transformation. Female figures had a number of different functions in Mende culture; some were employed in divination rites to help cure both physical and mental disorders, while others were associated with initiation societies. In general, such sculptures stood beside and protected the medicines in a society house, where they remained unseen by the public except when they were brought out on special occasions.
Guinea Coast, Liberia
or geography Sierra Leone
On view
19th–20th century

Charles B. Benenson Collection, Greenwich, Conn, before 1993–2004; Yale University Art Gallery, New Haven, Conn.


“Acquisitions, July 1, 2005–June 30, 2006,” Yale University Art Gallery Bulletin (2006): 222, 225, ill.

Frederick John Lamp, “Hot Space, Cool Space: The Reinstallation of the African Art Collection in the Louis Kahn Building at Yale University,” African Arts 40 (Summer 2007): 47, fig. 21.

Frederick John Lamp, Amanda Maples, and Laura M. Smalligan, Accumulating Histories: African Art from the Charles B. Benenson Collection at the Yale University Art Gallery (New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Art Gallery, 2012), 163, ill.

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.