Yoruba Artist, Nigeria
Pair of Twin Figures (ère ìbejì)
Wood, pigment, beads, and cowrie shells
Fred and Rita Richman Collection
On View - Wieland Pavilion, Lower Level, Gallery 102, African Collection
Twins are more common in Yoruba communities than anywhere else in the world. Ère ìbejì figures such as these represent deceased twin children. When a twin dies, a figure is carved to localize the spirit of the deceased. If neglected, its spirit might feel abandoned and invite the soul of the surviving twin to join it in the beyond. The smooth, worn surfaces of these figures show that they have been cared for devotedly. Their elaborate ceremonial coiffures are rubbed with a powdered dye called Rickett’s blueing, which was used by the British to whiten laundry during the colonial era. Yoruba artists used the powder as a substitute for indigo.