Evocations of the Child: fertility figures from the southern African region


Grahamstown Festival

South African National Gallery

Olievenhuis Art Museum Bloemfontein

Johannesburg Art Gallery


Co-curator with Karel Nel

Contributor to catalogue




This traveling exhibition of child/fertility figures from the southern African region was funded by the Standard Bank Foundation and the Johannesburg Art Gallery. The exhibition opened at the Grahamstown Festival of the Arts before  traveling to major centers in South Africa.

This exhibition brought together a selection of little known figures from the southern African region, including Lesotho, Swaziland, Namibia and  Zimbabwe that have come to be called 'fertility dolls'. More correctly referred to a 'child figures,' these small, usually anthropomorphic forms, evoke the 'wished for child' a woman hopes to bear. They are made by women and used in ceremonial contexts associated with the maturation, motherhood and identity of women. The exhibition was accompanied by a comprehensive catalogue edited by Dr Elizabeth Dell with 21 essays by 15 authors.

South Sotho nguana modula (370mm) Wood, textile, beads, brass button. Collection JAG
Tsonga nwana (180 mm). Textile, beads, thread, metal disks. wood. Brenthurst Collection.
Ovambo child figure. Wood, glass beads, fibre. Collection: JAG
Ndebele umdwana (240mm) Glass beads, thread, textile, button, plant fiber. Collection: JAG 
Barbie doll dressed in traditional Ndebele outfit (310mm) Glass beads, thread, plant fibre, animal hide, plastic. Collection: JAG
Swazi umntfwana/lishoba (730mm) Metal wire, glass beads, horeshair. Collection: JAG