Disclaimer: this information is what I understood at the time. New research, different spellings and better information are certainly available.
Years ago, when I was teaching art to small children in Paterson, I realized that my art education at Montclair State had included very little information on African art. Since my students were mostly African American, I figured I better learn more, and quickly. The bronze bas relief sculptures, the stylized wooden animals, and the ancient masks were all great hits. The kids loved making Romeare Bearden colleges. One of the things that really sang to me was the Nkisi Nkondi: wooden figures with all sorts of nails and shards hammered into them:
As I understood it, the nails were hammered in to release the figure's power.
Some years later, I came across a very different cultural figure: the Sheila-na-gig. A truly ancient figure once found carved into buildings in Ireland and England, they fell out of favor when Christianity came in. These stone figures had the body of an old, usually skeletal women, with her vagina held wide open. I was told that this represented mother earth, welcoming all inside.
The two Sheila's on the left are off the internet. The two on the right I photographed in Ireland.
Somehow, it came to me to wonder "what about a female Nkisi Nkondi? What if a Sheila had pins (instead of nails) pressed into her to release her sexual power? She would look like this:
She's sewn onto a bright red damask napkin (it came red! No dyeing needed!). The face was inspired by a similar face on an ancient Chinese carving. The hands are huge to show her abilities. I meant for the figure to show true, assertive female empowerment...and be just a little scary.
In the same vein, I created the Three Menses (not the lovely Muses - this is a different type of inspiration):
a detail photo:
Might as well finish this post with Small Red Quilt:
I have the information on this one somewhere. It's about...2ft square? Crammed with beads, buttons, angry red knots. And the back is a tightly sewn white patchwork of bra straps and girdles.