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Standing Figure (Ibeji)

A work made of wood, cloth, and cowrie shells.

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  • A work made of wood, cloth, and cowrie shells.

Date:

Mid–19th/early 20th century

Artist:

Workshop of Abogunde of Ede (active late 19th century)
Yoruba
Ede, Nigeria
Coastal West Africa

About this artwork

The Yoruba have one of the highest rates of twin births in the world, but with this comes the increased frequency of infant mortality. Throughout the Yoruba region that used to belong to the Oyo Empire, twins are called emi alagbara (powerful spirits), carriers of riches to their parents and misfortune for those who fail to honor them.

The cult of twins is the result of a radical transformation in attitudes relating to twin births sometime around the late 18th and early 19th centuries. Scholars are uncertain what event may have motivated such a reversal from the perception of twins as evil or terrifying to their reception as kings and orisa. The death of a twin will often prompt the parents to consult an Ifa divination priest and commission a sculptor to carve an ere ibeji. The sculptor has almost complete aesthetic control over the final features and form of the work. Although the sculptures represent a deceased infant, they are carved with the features of an adult. Once the sculpture is completed, it is taken care of as if it were a child. This female figure wears a cowrie jacket, and her coiffure is composed of five conical points. The sculptor carved L-shaped scars on each cheek and three parallel scars on the figure’s forehead.

Traditionally, a Yoruba sculptor learns his art through apprenticeship in a family workshop. The distinctive outlined eyes and high, striated coiffure and facial marks of this time-worn ibeji figure suggest that it comes from the workshop of Abogunde of Ede, active in the late 19th century. The female shrine figure (1988.21) and Sango dance staff (2000.495) in the collection also come from the Abogunde workshop, the former perhaps even carved by the master himself.

Currently Off View

Arts of Africa

Culture

Yoruba

Artist

Workshop of Abogunde of Ede

Title

Standing Figure (Ibeji)

Places

Ede (Object made in), Nigeria (Object made in), Africa (Object made in)

Date

1825-1925

Medium

Wood, cloth, and cowrie shells

Dimensions

H. 26.7 cm (10 1/2 in.)

Credit Line

Gift of Drs. James and Gladys Strain

Reference Number

1997.700

Extended information about this artwork

Object information is a work in progress and may be updated as new research findings emerge. To help improve this record, please email . Information about image downloads and licensing is available here.

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