|Mid-20th Century, Dem. Rep. Congo|
With bold round head, jutting square chin, and strong squared shoulders, this "Nkishi" portrays a visual power that Songye sculptures are known for, as well as a sense of the purposeful intention for which it may have been carved. For the Songye, figures such as this were carved for an individual, or a family, as an instrument of communication, healing and/or protection against malevolent forces. The size and style of carving of this figure indicates that it was probably a private and intimate object used by a client, kept in the home, and believed to interact with the spirits or forces on behalf of the client for a specific problem or situation.
The client would have approached a nganga, a magical specialist, who would have prescribed the details of the carving. But the figure would not be meaningful until, an empowered mixture of ingredients or "bishimba", such as animal, vegetal or mineral substances, would be inserted, for this figure it would have been either in the abdominal cavity or the top of the head. Usually, a complete ritual procedure would be completed, and through these specific steps, the figure would be activated with its protective force.
This particular example is a truncated form, with thick integral round base supporting a full rounded abdomen with a metal tack at navel, the emphasis of the abdomen expresses fertility and communicates to the Songye, the ongoing cycle of life and the link to their ancestors. Blue and pink beads with a metal tag adorn the neck, and the broad tapered face bears wide incised eyes, wide nose, and squared relief mouth emphasizing a geometric design. A small hollowed cavity is on top of the head. While this figure may have once been covered with more attachments and accessories, it still retains a powerful presence due to the boldness of its carving.
Deep dark brown patina, lighter around the base and waist where it may have once been covered. There are a few stable, shallow cracks on the base, a reglued pressure crack on the navel, minor hairline cracks on the head, otherwise it is intact. Custom wood base.
|Location of Origin: Africa|
|Medium/Materials: hardwood, metal detail, beads|
|Dimensions: 9.625 x 3.5 x 3.5 inches, 24.4475 x 8.89 x 8.89 centimeters|
|Primary Classification: African Artwork, Ethnographic & Tribal Arts : African Art|
|Literature:"Art and Power in the Central African Savanna. Luba/Songye/Chokwe/Luluwa", by Constantine Petridis, Mercatorfonds, Brussels & The Cleveland Museum of Art, Cleveland, Ohio, 2008|
Hersak, Dunja, "Songye Masks and Figure Sculpture", London: Ethnographica, 1986
|Provenance: Ex. Collection of Walter Stern, NYC, acquired at Sotheby’s.|
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