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Female ancestral or protective figure (adu)

19th century


Unknown Artist

  • Details

    Other Title
    Adu Horo (Protective figure)
    Place where the work was made
    North Nias North Sumatra Indonesia
    Cultural origin
    19th century
    Media categories
    Sculpture , Ceremonial object
    Materials used
    65.5 x 14.5 x 15.0 cm
    Christopher Worrall Wilson Bequest 2010
    Not on display
    Accession number

    Reproduction requests

  • About

    On the island of Nias, wooden images known as ‘adu’ are believed to provide a medium between the human world and that of the spirits, ancestors and gods. While female ‘adu’ sculptures do occur, they appear to be less prevalent than depictions of male ancestors and deities in hermaphroditic form, especially those depicting pregnant women. Among Nias societies, birth is considered a sacred and potentially dangerous act that takes place under the influence of deities and ancestors. With its prominent genitalia and rounded abdomen the figure may represent an ancestor who died with child or during labour. The absence of accoutrements associated with nobility may indicate the common status of the individual depicted. It is also possible, however, that the figure does not represent an ancestor but was a device to aid childbirth.

  • Exhibition history

    Shown in 2 exhibitions

    • Glorious, Art Gallery of New South Wales, Sydney, 27 May 2017–06 Jan 2019

    • Archie Plus, Art Gallery of New South Wales, Sydney, 26 Sep 2020–07 Mar 2021

  • Bibliography

    Referenced in 2 publications

  • Provenance

    William Downing Webster, pre 1896, England

    Augustus Pitt-Rivers, Oct 1896, England, acquired from William D. Webster.

    Christopher Wilson, 1990-1996, Sydney/New South Wales/Australia, purchased at Christie's, South Kensington, Tribal art sale, 2 October 1990, lot no. 17.

    Mariann Ford, 1996-2010, Sydney/New South Wales/Australia, inherited from the estate of Christopher Wilson. Gift to the Art Gallery of New South Wales as part of the Christopher Worrall Wilson Bequest 2010.