Figure: Mother and Child, 19th–20th century
Democratic Republic of Congo or Angola, Kongo peoples, Yombe group
Wood, glass, metal, pigment; H. 13 5/8 in. (34.6 cm)
The Michael C. Rockefeller Memorial Collection, Bequest of Nelson A. Rockefeller, 1979 (1979.206.29)
This maternity figure is an idealized Kongo archetype of historical feminine beauty. Her raised scarifications in geometric patterns on the chest and back, filed teeth, beaded adornments, and prominent hairstyle denote this figure as a woman of elite status. The mother's peaked hairstyle is echoed by the coiffure of the child cradled in her lap. This sculpture was likely placed in a shrine to honor the ancestral mothers of a lineage. The glass fragments placed in the figure's eyes suggest the sculpture's commemorative role. Reflective surfaces such as mirrored glass suggest the surface of water, a symbolic link to the ancestral realm. Kongo cosmology posits water as the median that separates the living world from the afterlife.