By William Dewey
Pennsylvania State University (formerly University of Iowa)

Ghana; Fante artist

Female figure with twins


46.4 cm (18 1/4”)

Seattle Art Museum, Gift of Katherine White and the Boeing Company, 81.17.442

Many female funerary figures are known, but maternity figures such as this are quite rare. Perhaps this is because, although the figures are portraits of the subjects while young and vigorous, the people they portrayed were usually old and without children when they died. Sieber explains that a “likeness is intended in only the broadest sense...  my informants (primarily chiefs and elders, some well educated) insisted that these objects were portraits, at times describing them as ‘photographs’ of the dead. Obviously a naturalistic likeness was neither intended nor sought, for the context of use—public display in a funeral hut erected in the middle of the village—and the context of visual association—one or two attributes of the deceased—were sufficient to establish an adequate set of identifying marks” (1973: 72).

Kwahu artist, Ghana. Funeral Figures. Photo by Roy Sieber.