Female Figure

20th century

Object Place: Yuat River, Papua New Guinea


50.8 x 17.8 x 17.8 cm (20 x 7 x 7 in.)

Accession Number


Medium or Technique

Wood, traces of pigment

Not On View


Africa and Oceania, Contemporary Art



The artists of the Mundugumor and their neighbors carved especially bold sculptures. Although this figure has been attributed to the Mundugumor, rather unusual stylistic features such as the protuberant belly indicate that it may come from a nearby area. Like other anthropomorphic works from the Sepik region, it is thought to represent a powerful legendary or recently deceased ancestress. Communities traditionally kept large figures of this type in ceremonial houses. Families owned smaller sculptures, such as this one, which had proper names and were recognized as spirits that could benefit the family and the community. This female figure-with its forward-thrusting head and hunched shoulders-assumes a dynamic, almost threatening pose. Its tension and its broken form suggest imminent movement and belie its relatively small size. With feet clutching a mound base, it stands with flexed, widespread legs, bulging stomach and breasts, and a face with prominent ridged eyes and pierced septum. The weathered, heavy wood retains faint traces of red and white pigments.


Walter Bondy (b. 1880 - d. 1940), Berlin and Sanary-sur-Mer, France [see note 1]. Private collection, France. November 15, 1979, sold by Wayne Heathcote, New York to William and Bertha Teel, Marblehead, MA; 1991, partial gift of William and Bertha Teel to the MFA; 2014, acquired fully with the bequest of William Teel to the MFA. (Accession Dates: January 22, 1992 and February 26, 2014)

[1] According to the dealer, this object came from the Bondy collection in Berlin. While this sculpture cannot be definitively identified among the objects sold from the Walter Bondy collection in 1927 and 1928, he did collect similar works of art from Papua New Guinea.

Credit Line

Gift of William E. and Bertha L. Teel