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HOME : Decorative Arts : African Sculptures : Kongo Wooden Pfemba Sculpture of a Mother and Child
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Kongo Wooden Pfemba Sculpture of a Mother and Child - PF.6160
Origin: Democratic Republic of Congo
Circa: 20 th Century AD
Dimensions: 28.75" (73.0cm) high
Collection: African
Medium: Wood

Location: United States
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Throughout history, the concept of mother and child united together has been a potent symbol; the source of works of art depicting universal images of fecundity and nourishment.  Kongo maternity figures, called pfemba, are among the most celebrated works of African art because of their easily recognizable theme, their classical form and their fine workmanship.  Furthermore, their full meaning and roll in Kongo society has not been determined with certainty because of the wealth of traditional content of the sculpture, both historic and symbolic. Therefore, today there is doubt that the model was the virgin and child, first introduced by missionaries in the 16th Century.


This sculpture helped to promote fertility, so crucial to the future of any tribe. As the mother sits cross-legged, she holds her baby carefully, in preparation for the child to suckle her breast.  The figure wears a knitted bonnet, or mpu, that suggests high rank and is generally associated with a chief.  The diagonal grid pattern covering her upper torso, shoulders, and back might represent either a woven shawl or else the raised patterns of decorative scarification that were considered marks of her sexuality and rank.  Her face shows also great expression with her mouth held slightly ajar, revealing four teeth.  With her headdress, necklace, bracelets and the infant (possibly an heir), the sculptor suggests this woman is a high-ranking member of Kongo society. Such statues were probably used by the ancestral cult. In the past, similar sculptures have been considered funeral figures.  This pfemba is especially remarkable for its tremendous size.  With the smoothness of the wood and the care taken in creating this expressive sculpture, we realize the importance that these pieces had on the lives of people and the care that these people took in creating and revering them.
- (PF.6160)


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