Renowned for their arresting sculptural power, Kongo power figures represent one of the most iconic art forms of central Africa. Created collaboratively by an artist and a ritual specialist (nganga), they are conceived to house potent mystical forces and bear stern witness to critical community affairs.
Nkisi (pl. minsiki) is both the name of a spirit and a figure that can be made to contain it. The nganga empowers the figure by embedding animal and plant substances into it, often in a cavity on the stomach, which is covered by a mirror. Thus charged, the nkisi is able to identify and attack a sorcerer who may be causing harm to certain individuals or the community at large; as well, minkisi were used to resolve conflicts among tribe members. Many minkisi are pierced with numerous nails and shards of metal, each of which attests to a resolution between members of the community or an effort to combat evil. While most minkisi brandish a dagger, indicating their role as avenger, some stand with hands akimbo, suggesting their role as Supreme Being.
The nkisi offered here shows a large abdominal cavity, multicolored body, and a number of attached accoutrements, including a prominent feather crown (possibly replaced) and a small cloth bundle slung across the torso. Wear and age have left the surfaces of the figure richly textured. Planted on its large feet and animated with a wide-eyed, vital expression, the figure holds high its right hand, which once carried a blade.
René Buthaud (1886–1986), Bordeaux, France, collection formed between 1920–1950
Galerie Olivier Le Corneur (1906–1991) and Jean Roudillon (1923–2020), Paris
Alfred Müller, Saint Gratien, France
Clayre and Jay Haft, USA
Christie's New York, May 1993
James Willis (1934–2019), San Francisco, 1995
Private USA collection
Raoul Lehuard “Art Bakongo. Les Centres de Style” Arts d'Afrique noire 2, Arnouville, 1989: 245 : fig. D 6-1-3