bowl supported by maternity figure

Sherbro people
Creation date
wood, pigment
20 x 12 3/8 x 12 3/4 in.
Credit line
Gift of Mr. and Mrs. Harrison Eiteljorg
Accession number
Not Currently On View

Bowls supported by human figures are found in some African societies.  The pose of the kneeling female here is one of offering, which suggests that this object was made to be kept in a public room of the owner's home.  The bowl held cola nuts, a tropical nut that contains a mild stimulant.  These nuts were offered to guests.

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Indianapolis Museum of Art: Highlights of the Collection (2005)

This serving vessel features a mother, child, and bowl with a lid in the form of a chicken. Evoking hospitality, the offering pose of the kneeling female suggests that the object was designed for use in a public room in the owner's home. The bowl probably held kola nuts, a tropical edible, or other offerings traditionally provided to guests.

The mother wears a prominent necklace, while the child has small boots. The carver devised pleasing and subtle relationships among the sculpture's elements. The work is a handsome example of cultural cross-pollination among African peoples. In the early 20th century, Yoruba laborers from Nigeria traveled hundreds of miles west to another British colony, Sierra Leone, for work. A quintessential Yoruba object rendered in a style common to the Vai people of the Sierra Leone, this bowl fuses two distinct artistic traditions. Offering bowls depicting a kneeling mother and child are a common Yoruba motif, while Vai carvings are characterized by the shiny black finish, rounded proportions, and cornrow hairstyles notable in this figure. Recent research suggests that a Yoruba resident in Sierra Leone commissioned a Vai carver to produce this remarkable hybrid piece.

Power and awareness lie with the mother; the child's image is proof of her ability and the image of continuity.
-Scholar Martha J. Ehrlich, 1996