Image: Installation view, A Perfect Power: Motherhood and African Art. Photography by Mitro Hood

A Perfect Power: Motherhood and African Art


Across central Africa’s matrilineal belt, the most important artworks were those that depicted the female body. In these 19th and early 20th century communities, group identity and familial responsibility flowed through the maternal line. Artists responded to this reality by sculpting visual markers of motherhood onto a range of objects associated with status and authority. In these societies, mothers not only created life and nurtured families, but also stood at the center of the moral order, ensuring the continuity of entire communities. From monumental headdresses of elderly mothers to sculptures that represent mythic female ancestors, this exhibition brings together nearly 40 objects from public and private collections to demonstrate how artists have represented the power of African mothers and used maternal imagery to signal moral, cultural, and spiritual authority.

Organized by Kevin Tervala, Associate Curator of African Art, BMA; Oyèrónké Oyěwùmí, Professor of Sociology, Africana, and Women’s Studies, Stony Brook University; Jennifer Kingsley, Director of the Museums & Society Program, Johns Hopkins University (JHU); and Michael Harper, Hae In Kim, Maria Kyriakakos, Clara Leverenz, and Andrea White, students in the Spring 2019 Curatorial Practicum at JHU.

This exhibition is generously supported by the Suzanne F. Cohen Exhibition Fund, Transamerica, and Christopher & Pamela Hoehn-Saric. Additional support is provided by The Museums and Society Program at Johns Hopkins University.