This figurine, “Mother Holding Child,” is by an anonymous artist from the Mekoto people in present-day Democratic Republic of Congo. It is crafted from a single piece of wood.
“In African art, there’s a prevalence of the mother-child motif,” said Taras W. Matla, director of the UMD Art Gallery. “I wanted to see what kind of response the gallery could have in the form of an exhibition that could add to the conversation about motherhood in a meaningful and robust way.”
The African art on display hails from a range of tribes, including
the Baule peoples from present-day Côte d’Ivoire, the Pende people from
present-day Democratic Republic of Congo, the Yoruba peoples from
present-day Nigeria and the Bangwa peoples from present-day Cameroon.
The works come from the extensive holdings of Gil Ph.D. ’72 and Jean
Jackson ’71, who have been collecting pieces from African tribes since
“What speaks to me about the art is both the spirituality of it and
the texture—the artists use all sorts of textures: woods, metals,
stones,” said Gil Jackson. “The artist has the ability to depict in
their own way the traditions of the tribe. You can’t vary much from the
tradition, but you can reflect your own style in that tradition.”
In the two exhibits, which are adjacent to one another, the newer
artwork picks up on the maternal themes of the older pieces. In light of
last year’s Supreme Court decision to reverse Roe v. Wade,
disproportionately high maternal mortality rates among Black women, and
ever-increasing costs of child care, Matla and Melanie Nguyen, curator
of the “Mother Molds” exhibit, felt that Rodriguez Meyer’s work
highlighting pregnant bodies was important to include.