African Art
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Maternity Figure

late 19th–early 20th century

Wood, pigment, and encrustation

82 x 24 x 24 in. (208.28 x 60.96 x 60.96 cm)
Charles B. Benenson, B.A. 1933, Collection
2006.51.389
This over-life-size figure of a nursing mother was part of a community shrine that honored the founding ancestors. Housed in small buildings, groups of statues forming families of ancestor spirits safeguarded the well-being of the community. These wooden statues, called edjo re akare, “spirits in carved form,” are meant to be fearsome to the living but beautiful to the dead. The color red refers to life in this world and is a symbol of fertility, mystery, and danger. In coming-of-age ceremonies, brides, their mothers, and their attendants are rubbed with red pigment from the camwood tree.
Culture: 
Urhobo
Period: 
19th–20th century
Classification: 
Sculpture
Geography: 
Made in Nigeria
Status: 
On view*
Provenance: 

Wright Gallery (William Wright), New York: unknown date-Sept. 23, 1985
Charles B. Benenson Collection, donated to Yale University Art Gallery in 2004

Bibliography: 

Susan Vogel, Mary (Polly) Nooter Roberts, and George Nelson Preston, Sets, Series and Ensembles in African Art, exh. cat. (New York: The Center for African Art, 1985), fig. 49.

Susan Vogel and Jerry L. Thompson, Closeup: Lessons in the Art of Seeing African Sculpture from an American Collection and the Horstmann Collection, exh. cat. (New York: The Center for African Art, 1990), 146, fig. 77.

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

Frederick John Lamp, Accumulating Histories: African Art from the Charles B. Benenson Collection at the Yale University Art Gallery (New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Art Gallery, 2012), 244, 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.