Maternity Figure

late 19th–early 20th century

African Art

On view, 1st floor, African Art

This monumental figure of a nursing mother was part of a shrine that honored the founding ancestors of the Urhobo people. 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.


Wood, pigment, and encrustation


82 × 24 × 24 in. (208.28 × 60.96 × 60.96 cm)

Credit Line

Charles B. Benenson, B.A. 1933, Collection

Accession Number



19th–20th century


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 records is ongoing.



Wright Gallery (William Wright), New York, to Sept. 23, 1985; Charles B. Benenson Collection, donated to Yale University Art Gallery in 2004
  • 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), 244, ill
  • "Acquisitions, July 1, 2005–June 30, 2006," in "Photography at Yale," special issue, Yale University Art Gallery Bulletin (2006), 222
  • 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: Museum for African Art, 1990), 146, fig. 77
  • Susan Vogel, Mary (Polly) Nooter Roberts, and George Nelson Preston, Sets, Series and Ensembles in African Art, exh. cat. (New York: Museum for African Art, 1985), fig. 49
Object copyright
Additional information

Object/Work type

figures (representations)

Technical metadata and APIs


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