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



Hook men’s ceremonial house, Papua New Guinea, Middle Sepik, early 20th century, Wood, pigments, plant fibres, 118 x 64.5cm, Gift of Robert Chauvelot, 71.1914.1.7

This hook, impressive by its size, would have been hung in a men’s ceremonial house. It is the figure of a woman, a primordial ancestor of a clan. The painted designs on her shoulders and stomach copy the scarification which was reserved for ancestors and certain woman of extremely high standing. Her genitals and the hook are hidden underneath a skirt made from plant fibres. The presence of a female figure in a place which was exclusively reserved for initiated men signals the complementary roles of the two sexes in New-Guinean societies. Fabric bags which may have contained sago cakes (cakes made with flour starch from the trunk of a palm tree) that the married women took to their men gathered at the ceremonial houses would have been hung on these hooks. Small bags which held offerings for the represented ancestor would also have been hung from these hooks. During the initiation of young men, these latter would pass underneath the open legs of their female ancestor, re-enacting their birth. This female body can be read on many levels. The bent open arms and legs evoke the animal world. These many levels of interpretation of shapes are characteristic of Sepik art.