Standing female figure with child

Mbala peoples
late 19th–early 20th century
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General Description

While this mother and child do not look at each other, they are physically and emotionally connected. The sculptor exaggerated the mother's embrace by carving her arms in an expressionistic rather than naturalistic manner. Her shoulders are minimized and slope downward to the left side. She holds the infant's feet with her right hand while she wraps her left arm around its torso. Her left hand slants upward, completing this circle of protection. In Mbala society, "left" and "left hand" are synonymous with feminitity and nurturing.

Maternity figures were part of the royal treasure. Chiefs, who served as both diviner and ritual specialist, mediated between their ancestral spirits and their subjects to assure the fertility and well-being of the latter. Because virility was an important criterion for his position, a maternity figure may symbolize a chief's numerous wives and children as well as a woman's essential role as child bearer.

Adapted from

Roslyn A. Walker, Label text, Arts of Africa, 2015.