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Art Pick of the Week: Mother and Child Bowl

Every week we’re sharing one of our favourite artworks from the AGO Collection for you to see on your next visit. If you need directions to find it, just ask when you arrive!

Mother and Child Bowl

Yoruba peoples. Mother and Child Bowl, late 19th century (?). Wood, glass beads, applied coating, Overall: 25.1 cm (9 7/8 in.). Gift from the Frum Collection, 1999. Image ©Art Gallery of Ontario 99/453

From heart-shaped chocolates to cards filled with romantic poems, the language of love is everywhere at this time of year. This Valentine’s Day, you may be looking for gift ideas, date night plans or even inspiration for a proposal. But for this week’s Art Pick, we’re looking at love through another lens by exploring the bond of a mother and her child in the meticulously carved sculpture, Mother and Child Bowl.

Like many works in the AGO’s Murray Frum Gallery, Mother and Child Bowl is believed to have been created in the late 1800s by a Yoruba artist. The Yoruba region is in Western Africa, extending across parts of Nigeria and Benin. Many of the works in the Murray Frum Gallery are inventive interpretations of the human form, incorporating universal themes of birth, survival, death and regeneration. Some works showcase power and leadership, while others help individuals communicate with the spirit world. Yoruba sculptures often served as vessels for divination.

In Mother and Child Bowl, we see a bowl supported by a mother carrying a child on her back. According to artist and Yoruba art historian Moyo Okediji, images of mothers and children are commonplace in this region. “Yoruba mothers go to great lengths to keep their children alive,” Okediji explains, “even offering sacrifices to encourage the divinities to intervene and assure health and wellbeing of their children.” The mother and child figures are carved in wood and adorned with glass beads. Contemporary African artist Moudu Ekhar explains, “In Yoruba culture, children are considered the biggest blessing. You may not be rich, but children are your main asset.” Upon closer inspection of the sculpture, we see that the wooden figures are carved from a single piece of wood – forever binding the mother and child to one another.

On your next visit to the AGO, spend some quality time with Mother and Child Bowl and other works in the African collection on Level 2, in the Murray Frum Gallery (Gallery 249).

Stay tuned for next week’s Art Pick.

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