Wood and organic material
Overall: 63.6 cm (25 1/16 in.)
James Albert and Mary Gardiner Ford Memorial Fund 1961.198
On view at:
The mother’s face, adorned with incisions and markings, resembles that of women who have reached puberty.
Beyond its specific depiction of a mother nursing her child, this sculpture symbolizes a larger concept of ancestral motherhood that is central to Senufo society, in which cultural inheritance is matrilineal. The darkened areas of wood come from oils applied to its surface as both libations and surface protectants. In some Senufo beliefs, one of the most important founding ancestors is the Great Mother or Ancient Woman (Katyeleeo or Maleeo). In groups that believe in the Great Mother, she suckles male initiates with the "milk of knowledge." Through this process, youths gain the information they need to become adults (that is, fully human). The simplified appearance of the "child" in this sculpture reflects his unformed, pre-initiated state.
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