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Kneeling Mother and Child, late 19th century


Among the few East African peoples who make sculptures in any quantity, the Makonde produce unusually naturalistic figures. A strong sensuality in the representation of the body is complemented by the attention given to intricate detailing, which often centers on an elaborate coiffure or tribal markings. These designs are viewed by the Makonde people as indications of rank, status, and identity, as well as decoration—Makonde females are scarified as they pass to adulthood.

Most African mother-and-child sculptures are intended to ensure fertility, but this piece is concerned with the high status of the female in that matriarchal society. It is thought to represent the primeval matriarch who founded the Makonde tribe. Details of the vigorously carved sculpture are sensitively articulated, including the mother’s hooded eyes and her fingers holding the sling in which the baby straddles her back, its tiny feet and hands extended. The ears and upper lip are pierced and hold ornaments, which are symbols of leadership in this region of East Africa. Great care is given to the representation of facial scarification, which is typical of Makonde figural sculptures and certain kinds of masks. Also characteristic is the imaginatively cut hair: the design would have been achieved by shaving away part of the hair and sculpting the rest into a raised design.



Pitt Rivers collection, England.

Armand P. Arman (born 1928), Paris and New York, to c. 1977;

purchased by (Ben Heller, Inc., New York), 1977;

purchased by Kimbell Art Foundation, Fort Worth, 1979.