The naturalistic representation of mother and child displays the importance of motherhood in the societal structures of Bamana society, as well as the importance of generational transmissions of skills and values. The representation of figures gesturing, holding objects, or wearing adornment is not found in other forms of Bamana art. Sculptures such as this one were often collectively owned by communities used for display during Jo initiation ceremonies and Gwan rituals (the male and female initiation societies, respectively, though women were able to join Jo societies), referred to as Jo or Gwan maternity figures. In ceremonial use, the figures are washed in hot water and soap, anointed with oils, and covered with decoration. They are displayed in groups. As she is seated, the mother is placed in a position of honor. The Bamana concept of badenya, or "motherchildness", informs the representation of mother and child in artwork. Badenya acts as the social force that pulls the individual back towards the concept and values of the mother. The process of making objects is analogous to childbirth in Bamana culture.
Metropolitan Museum of Art. Museum label for Mother and Child. New York, NY.
Cole, Herbert M. Maternity: Mothers and Children in the Arts of Africa. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2017.
Colleyn, Jean-Paul. Bamana. Italy: 5 Continents Editions, 2009.Kate Ezra. Human Ideal in African Art: Bamana Figurative Sculpture. Washington, D.C.: National Museum of African Art, 1986.