Male standing figure - Songye Nkisi

Songye artists are famed for their masks and statuary, which are highly stylized and often striking in their sculptural power. Representations of males and females abound in Songye tradition, each having a characteristic style and individuality. These carvings were largely used within secret societies as power objects, channeling spiritual forces to protect or assist the owner or the greater community.
While many Songye power figures (nkisi, pl. minkisi) stand facing frontally, this figure takes a less conventional posture with its face turned ninety degrees to the right. Here a pair of small legs supports a broad neck and mask-like head with open mouth and alert, wide eyes set with small cowrie shells. The brow and chin are decorated with brass tacks, a common embellishment in Songye statuary. These show well against the dark surface of the figure, which has been deeply developed through saturation with palm oil. A slender, coral-colored shell necklace encircles the figure at the waist.

Projecting from the crown of the head is a large segment of animal horn holding a magical charge (boanga) made by a ritual practitioner. Composed of potent organic ingredients, paste-like preparations of boanga were placed in hollows in the torsos or heads of power figures to endow them with magical efficacy, also found in the open mouth of this example.

Late 19th/early 20th century
Wood, horn, shells, nails, organic substances
Height: 13 in

Frederic Poutchkovsky, Pau, France
Adrian Schlag, Brussels, 2008

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