This page is a record of an exhibit that took place
in 1994. The individual links below will take you to
the CURRENT VERSION of the pages
that formed part of that exhibit.
Our "Couples in African Art" exhibition showed works from a
theme that touches almost every major people in Africa and reflects the
importance of the social institution of marriage in their society. Usually
representing spirits, ancestors or the primordial couple, they were placed
in shrines and treated with great respect. Through a wide range of style,
scale, belief and function the couples depicted share a timeless, serene
equality necessary to the continuity of their societies.
Traditionally, most of the couples are two freestanding figures, conceived as a unit, and posed frontally, symmetrically, in formal postures and of equal size. The show includes such figures from the Baule, Bangwa, Benelua, Fang, Mambila, Pygmy, Tabwa and, in several (and including very large) examples, the Senufo, Igbo and Mumuye. Dogon and Luba couples touch and show a tenderness and equality in their relationship. In their stools and headrests the male and female figures serve as symbolic supports. Yaka and Pende pieces combine men and women in one figure creating the mythological primordial being from whom man and woman evolved.
Usually in performances and masking, the dancing, masks and even style are used to illustrate and emphasize the differences between men and women. Ejagham and Igbo janus (two-faced) masks express male / female duality and the "two as one" idea. Gender roles, and how they are appreciated equally, are best represented by two large Yoruba Epa masks, one male and one female. Some Bamana Chi Wara headdresses (male & female), several small couples in metal, a pair of Yaka lovers and other fascinating pieces complete the show.