IBEJI – TWICE BORN
Twin sculptures of the Yoruba people from the Pavlich collection
29th December 2015 - 19th June 2016
Exhibition curator/exhibition design:
Aleksandra Prodanović Bojović
Photographs: Vlada Popović, Angelo Micheli, David Howard, Anthony Hart Fisher, the Museum photo archive
Interview by: Aleksandra Prodanović Bojović
Video material: Aaron Carter-Cohn, Aleksandar Maričić
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About the exhibition
The Museum of African Art presents the topic of twins in African art and culture with an exhibition of twin statues of the Yoruba people from the Pavlich art collection. These sculptures belong to the twin cult of the Yoruba people, who have the highest twin birth rate in the world. At this multimedia exhibition visitors can learn about the Yoruba beliefs and customs concerning twins, listen to a praise song dedicated to twins, and see an interview with a priest of the Yoruba traditional religion on the importance of twins for the Yoruba.
An above average number of twins is born on the African continent, compared to other parts of the world. The Yoruba people, who live in southwest Nigeria, have the highest rate of multiple births in the world. The Yoruba people, as well as other African cultures, attribute supernatural origins and spiritual power to twins. According to their beliefs, every person has a double in the heavens. Twins are children who are born along with their heavenly counterpart. The name for twins in yoruba is ibeji, meaning “born two times”, which also the name of the divinity that protects them. Twin children are regarded as divine blessings which bring happiness to their family if they are cared for and treated with respect. The cult dedicated to twins is based on these beliefs.
Anthropomorphic wooden sculptures called ere ibeji, were made in the case of death of twin children, which was a frequent occurrence in traditional communities, before the arrival of modern medicine. These figures served as substitutes for the child, as a consolation, a “vessel” in which the child’s soul dwelled. Treating the sculpture as they would a real child, the family expressed their love and tenderness for the child gone too soon. The sculpture “participated” in numerous rituals and ceremonies dedicated to twins and the Ibeji deity. It was believed that the sculpture protects the family, especially children, from sickness and death.
The diversity, as well as the artistic and emotional value of twin sculptures, sparked an interest of numerous collectors of African art from around the world. Today, these objects are featured in many museum and gallery collections around the world.
The contemporary age brought about the decline of twin rituals, but traces of older beliefs still exist. The outlines of the cult are still recognizable in the special, “heavenly” names given to twins, praise songs dedicated to them, and in the joy with which the birth of these fragile “double deities” is anticipated.
The preserved sculptures offer insight into an extraordinary ritual and artistic practice, whose values are inscribed into the culture and memory of the Yoruba people. It is an exceptional pleasure to display the sculptures of twins, which were collected at the end of the 1970s in Nigeria with dedication and patience which attest to the passion and the artistic gift of their owners and keepers, Ljiljana and Boris Pavlić.
The exhibition also showcases black and white photographs – double portraits from West Africa, which illustrate the preservation of beliefs and notions regarding twins which are transposed into a new medium. These photographs are the courtesy of French historian of African art and curator, Angelo Micheli, who has done research on twins and photography in Africa.
At this multimedia exhibition visitors can learn about the Yoruba beliefs and customs concerning twins, listen to a praise song dedicated to twins, and see an interview with a priest of the Yoruba traditional religion on the importance of twins for the Yoruba.
Thematic art workshops are organized along with the exhibition, for pre-schoolers and school children (see calendar of events).
Opening of the exhibition "Ibeji - Twice Born" (29th December 2015)
The exhibition is realized under the patronage of the City Assembly of Belgrade and the Secretariat for Culture.