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
- Workshop of Abogunde of Ede
- Standing Figure (Ibeji)
- Ede (Object made in), Nigeria (Object made in), Africa (Object made in)
- Wood, cloth, and cowrie shells
- H.: 26.7 cm (10 1/2 in.)
- Gift of Drs. James and Gladys Strain