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31 October

feminity, fertility

In non-western cultures, female effigies often incarnate ancestors.

In connection with the spirit world, of which they are guardians, they also represent goddess-mothers or goddesses who can be wild, protective, bearers of wisdom, noble or hieratic, graceful or sensual, and which are usually symbols of fertility.

With regard to the portrayal of motherhood, a recurring theme in African art, this refers to the idea of continuing the family or clan lineage, and to the transmission of knowledge.

  • Hooks

  • Anthropomorphic sculpture

  • Commemorative effigy

  • Ceremonial cloth

  • A Maam man attacking a pregnant woman

  • Statuette depicting a mother and her child

  • Statuette depicting the goddess Kankalinmata

  • Manasa, the goddess of snakes

  • Anthropomorphic mask

  • Anthropo-zoomorphic mask

  • Motherhood

  • Motherhood

  • Helmet mask

  • Female statuette

  • Cup bearer

  • Shadow puppet, Sita under her tree

  • Ritual doll

  • Chalchiuhtlicue

  • Anthropomorphic statuette: motherhood

  • Hunchback female figurine

  • Female figurine


A Maam man attacking a pregnant woman

A Maam man attacking a pregnant woman

A Maam spirit attacking a pregnant woman, Midjaw-Midjaw, Australia, Arnhem Land, Croker Island, Kunwinjku, 1963, eucalyptus bark, pigments, 52.5 x 41cm, collected by Karel Kupka, 72.1964.9.106

In Western Arnhem Land, the aborigines believe in the existence of spirits, the Mimi and the Maam, which live in the rocky cliffs. The stories of these spirits which are painted on the rocky walls of caves or on tree bark, as well as being a learning aid for children, are also used for witchcraft. In the paintings, the Maam are characterised by their deformed bodies, their contorted and open limbs, and their enlarged genitalia, elements which link them to the world of witchcraft. They also refer to the spirit of a deceased person, their ghost. These Maam spirits are painted in order to trigger vengeance towards the enemy, an adulterous partner, or a potential lover who has refused advances… The act of touching the painting then triggers the punishment. The pregnant female figure portrayed here is being chased by a Maam spirit. The view of the inside of the woman’s body is characteristic of the “x-ray” style used in the paintings of the Western Arnhem Land. However, the portrayal of pregnancy is rare in the paintings and sculptures of Oceania. There are some paintings of women breast-feeding their babies in the art of the Western Arnhem Land, linked to imitative magic. However, in this case, the painting is intended to provoke illness or death.