This harmonious piece was made by one of the three large groups that dominate the Grasslands region covered by SW Cameroon and parts of Nigeria: the Tikar, Bamileke and Bamun. Their artworks are largely based around a court setting, in which the royal family – who are essentially absolute monarchs – are celebrated and depicted in artworks that are displayed as courtly regalia during important ceremonies. Smaller figures are made by all three groups, but pieces such as this are usually used by healers and magicians of the Bamileke group, and which are known as “Mu Po”. These pieces were usually represented as well-nourished woman, although the possession of such naturalistic features is unusual. The fact that she bears two children on her knees is also unusual, as is the use of metal rather than wood.
The age of this piece may contribute in part to the unusual representation. However, the basic iconography is unambiguous, depicting an evidently wealthy woman (judging from her coiffure and jewellery) of substantial build with two children breastfeeding from her. Even her corpulence is significant, implying as it does her wealth, fecundity and suitability as a bride. This is an outstanding piece of African sculpture.
- (PF.5966 (LSO))