A new mother appeared recently in the galleries for African art at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. She is a painted wood figure, slightly smaller than life-size, holding an infant twin in each hand.
The sculptor, Claudette Schreuders, was born in 1973 in Pretoria. She had two distinct phases to her training: as an MFA student in Cape Town, and as in apprentice to masters in traditional woodcarving techniques in Nigeria and Kenya. Her carved wood pieces—like this frank-looking woman, standing stockstill in her geometric ensemble as her matching babies squirm—owe to classical African as well as European medieval antecedents; she shows them in contemporary-art galleries, among them Jack Shainman in New York and Stevenson in South Africa.
So when Alisa LaGamma, a curator of African art at the Met (herself born in the Congo and brought up partly in Italy), saw Two Hands on a visit to Cape Town, she recommended it for acquisition—to the museum’s department of modern and contemporary art. Then, soon after her colleagues bought the 2010 artwork, she borrowed it from them.
LaGamma put the trio on a prominent platform in the main Africa gallery, alongside a Dogon sculpture of a mother and child, and in sight of similar pairs from other cultures. (Though twins are prominent in Dogon, Yoruba, and several other classical African-art traditions, LaGamma notes, the museum lacks the example for an ideal match-up.) Just down the wall from Two Hands hangs Between Earth and Heaven, a 2006 aluminum-and-copper tapestry by Ghana-born, Nigeria-based sculptor El Anatsui (another Shainman artist). Like the odes to the African mask the museum showed last year, Two Hands is yet more evidence that the boundaries between departments are eroding.
Call it contemporary, African, post-Primitivist, or post-Colonialist, it’s still a contemporary sculpture of white figures by a white South African female artist, taking pride of place in galleries devoted to more traditional arts of Africa. For that reason, this little family makes a very big statement.
Left: Mother and Child Figure (N’duleri), Mali, Dogon peoples, 16th - early 20th century, wood. The Michael C. Rockefeller Memorial Collection, bequest of Nelson A. Rockefeller.
Right: Claudette Schreuders, “Two Hands,” 2010, jelutong wood and enamel paint. The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, purchase, Abraham L. Waintrob Fund and Bertha and Isaac Liberman Foundation and The Gerta Foundation Gifts.
She was real?
By a solid 3 days too. Not even close haha
Hahaha nice! Lol