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

MaliDjenné style

Maternity figure


H. 29 cm. (11”)          

University of Iowa Stanley Museum of Art, The Stanley Collection, X1986.493

Maternity figures, such as this Djenné (Jenne) style mother and child, are also common among Middle Niger terracottas. Other common subjects include: groups of figures surrounding or covering a larger female figure, kneeling males or females, snakes (often coiled), or figures with snakes on them (this maternity figure has a snake around her neck), and humans with boils or pustules covering their bodies. Figures in another style known as the Bankoni style, reportedly found near the modern city of Bamako, are much simpler, with very little body decoration. Maternity figures are relatively common in contemporary African art and refer to human fertility, abundance, or increase. These themes were undoubtedly important in ancient times, but just how and why such figures were used will probably never be known.