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A Signed Male Yoruba Twin Memorial Figure / Ere Ibeji, Abeokuta, Early 20th Century

A Signed Male Yoruba Twin Memorial Figure / Ere Ibeji, Abeokuta, Early 20th Century
A Signed Male Yoruba Twin Memorial Figure / Ere Ibeji, Abeokuta, Early 20th Century

Description/Condition

Origin: Abéòkúta (Egba). Workshop: Adìgbòloge Workshop. Attributed to Makinde, grandson of Ojerinde(c1900-1950) and signed to the base. Date: c1930.

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Detailed Information

Item No: A19918
Dimensions: Height: 8 ¾ inches
About this item:

Height: 8 ¾ inches

Origin: Abéòkúta (Egba)

Workshop: Adìgbòloge Workshop. Attributed to Makinde, grandson of Ojerinde(c1900-1950) and signed to the base.

Date: c1930

This is a superb male Yoruba twin memorial figure (Ere Ìbejì), from the Adìgbòloge workshop of Abéòkúta. With a lovely varied brown patina and residues of black stain to the coiffure the piece is dated circa 1930.

Rising from a rectangular shaped base the ‘Ibeji’ is carved with flat feet, elaborately carved toes, and a loincloth/ shorts tied at the front. The narrow, sloping shoulders and arms terminate with super, detailed hands which attached at the hips. The head is crowned with an incised, peaked coiffure which is delineated at the hairline with one raised, parallel line separated by two parallel grooves. The large, almond shaped eyes are detailed with drilled pupils and the cheeks and forehead with triple patterns of scarification and pierced ears. The pectoral muscles and spine are well defined, as are the raised naval and nipples. The waist and neck are decorated with blue, red and black beads and coconut slices threaded on cotton fibre.

The relatively large hands and arms closed around a hollow space are characteristics of sculpture from Abéòkúta, and allowed patrons to embellish their memorial figures with cowrie shells, beads and other accoutrements. The piece also has strong stylistic affinity with the work of Makinde, grandson of Ojerinde(c1900-1950), and bears the triangular incision to the base (signature) used by that carver. It shows marked similarities to a carving attributed to Makinde and described in Yoruba, Kunst und Ästhetik in Nigeria, Museum Rietberg Zürich (1991), p. 36, ill. 46.

Condition Notes: The piece is in superb condition.

Provenance: The figure was purchased in the 30’s by Francis ‘Johnny’ Johnston and retained in his collection and then the collection of his wife (Diana James) until 2005 when it was acquired by the present owner.

About The Adìgbòloge Workshop: One of the two major workshops of Abéòkúta, the Adìgbòloge Workshop was established in 1851 in the Ìtokò Quarter by Ojerinde Adìgbòloge. This carving lineage, along with the È?úbíyì family, had a strong influence on other artists both near and far from their centers in Abéòkúta.
About Ere Ìbejì: The Yoruba people of south-west Nigeria (and adjacent areas) are known to have one of the highest rates of twin births in the world. Sadly, twins were likely to be both premature and underweight and in the absence of modern standards of health care they were subject to a higher infant mortality rate than single-born children. The poignant memorial figures that were carved in the aftermath of the death of one or both twins have become some of the most celebrated sculptural forms of African art.

As a twin birth was an auspicious event, a twin death was equally (if not more) portentous, and was treated accordingly by the consultation of a Diviner. Amongst other rituals the Diviner would stipulate whether or not an image should be made, as well as electing a particular carver to execute the piece. Although, most carvings signified the death of one or both twins, on occasion a diviner would specify that an image of a surviving twin should be created, or on very rare occasions when no death had occurred at all.

Traditionally the family facilitated the ‘birth’ of the image by supporting the carver during the creation of the piece. Once completed the image would be kept in the living area of the home and cared for and adorned much as the twin would have been if he/she had lived. Thus, the spirit of the dead twin/ s was honoured. The aesthetic beauty of these carvings along with their sentimental value as a tangible echo of tragic, human experience makes them one of the most captivating art forms in the world.

Literature:

Homberger, Lorenz (Ed.), Yoruba. Art & Aesthetics in Nigeria. The Center for African Art and Rietberg Museum, Zurich. 1991.
Chemeche, George. Ibeji: the cult of Yoruba twins. 5 Continents. 2003.