SAKALAVA MALE AND FEMALE COUPLE, MADAGASCAR
William Wright, New York
Robert Rubin, New York, acquired from the above on November 6, 1986
The Virginia Museum of Fine Arts, Richmond, Virginia, Perspectives: Angles on African Art, February 21 - April 26, 1987; additional venues:
San Diego Museum of Art, San Diego, May 23 - August 16, 1987
The Center for African Art, New York, September 18, 1987 - January 3, 1988
The Birmingham Museum of Art, Birmingham, January 31 - March 27, 1988
Susan M. Vogel, Perspectives: Angles on African Art, New York, 1987, p. 117
Large, fully three-dimensional grave post figures were erected in the proximity of the tombs of important deceased chiefs and other persons of high rank. Marked sexual characteristics such as seen in the Rubin couple symbolized "the process of transition from living to dead, when the elder is reborn as an ancestor" (Borgatti 1990: 49).
The American novelist, poet and civil right activist James Baldwin (1924-1987) discusses the Rubin Sakalava Couple in his contribution to the catalogue of the exhibition Perspectives: Angles on African Art at New York's Museum for African Art (Baldwin in Center for African Art 1987: 116): "This is a mother and child, male and female figure. It's a curious combination, it's very ambiguous in a way. But let me find the words that I want. In other words, it's a combination of things. It's very very gentle - the woman and the man. Though it appears that the man is more hopeless, despite the fact that he has a phallus. The way it's positioned is curious. It echoes his coming out of her womb and that she will be carrying his child. She's holding him and he's clinging to her. They're both indispensable. It echoes childbirth and it promises fertility. The craftsmanship is very economical. I'd like to write a novel like that.
"The key is somewhere in her face; the way she's looking out and the way he's looking - God knows what he's looking at. She's looking at the child she bore, the man she's bearing, and the child she will bear. She knows more about him than he knows about her, which is perfectly all right - that's part of their secret. Something about the arms and the breasts and his squatting and her standing suggests this to me. Is she standing or kneeling? No, it looks like she's kneeling. It's very beautiful.
"It's hard to describe these things in a Western language. It speaks of a kind of union which is unimaginable in the West. Men and women distrust each other so profoundly that this piece would not be possible."