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Catalog Data

Maker:
Kongo artist  Search this
Medium:
Wood, glass, iron, pigment, cloth, plant fiber, horn, nails
Dimensions:
H x W x D: 42.7 x 26.6 x 19.3 cm (16 13/16 x 10 1/2 x 7 5/8 in.)
Type:
Sculpture
Geography:
Democratic Republic of the Congo
Date:
Late 19th to mid-20th century
Label Text:
The term nkisi (pl. minkisi) has no English equivalent. In the past "fetish" and "power figure" have been used as brief identifiers, but they do not convey the word's meaning. A nkisi is the physical container for a spirit from the other world, the land of the dead. When activated by a specialist, or nganga, it has the power to heal, to protect or to punish. Minkisi can be dramatic wooden sculptures with mirror-covered resin boxes added to hold the empowering substances, or they can be ordinary containers such as pots, net bags and baskets. An active nkisi requires the rituals of its nganga, and it always contains medicines, materials with potential spiritual powers. The mirror-covered stomach pack and other amulets and containers identify this figure as a nkisi, and its aggressive pose (the upraised arm originally held a blade) suggests it is a nkondi (hunter) type. By occult means, this type of nkisi hunted down unidentified witches, thieves, adulterers and other wrongdoers. It once had a personal name and invocations that are now lost to us.
The public performance aspect of the rituals would have made the purpose of the nkisi clear, but much about the composition of its medicines would have been known only to the nganga, possessor of the ability to see into the spirit world. There is a certain blurring of identity between the nkisi and the nganga. This nkisi carries musical instruments like the ones used by the nganga--antelope horn whistles, a crescent-shaped wooden slit gong and a miniature iron gong. The container hanging from the right arm is in the shape of a gunpowder flask, a distinctive form with suspension cords running through interior channels on its sides. The nganga commonly aroused the attention of the nkisi nkondi by exploding gunpowder in front of it. The ball that closes the flask is a spherical seedpod containing medicines. Not visible is another medicine pack on the bottom of the flask, one of about a dozen empowering additions, an unusually large number. Because these medicines are on the front and back, atop the head and between the legs, on the shoulders, feet and elbow, they literally cover all directions and, like the reflective glass eyes, enable the nkisi nkondi to see witches, those who would do harm. The eyes are further emphasized by red and white lines, the "tears" that come with death. Literally every item, color and form on this figure has a meaning, so that what began as a relatively compact, solidly modeled sculpture becomes an exposition of Kongo beliefs to those with the eyes of knowledge.
Description:
Male figure with upraised proper right arm, proper left hand on his hip and a circular mirrored medicine pack on the stomach and arm. The eyes are inset with glass and there are red and white lines under the eyes down the cheeks. Attachments include wood, crescent shaped slit gong, iron gong, antelope horn, cylindrical bark box and a ceramic gunpowder flask with seed pod instead of top.
Provenance:
René Withofs, Brussels, 1950
Gallerie Zodiaque, Brussels, 1969
Christian Duponcheel, Belgium, 1969
K. John Hewett, London
Judith Small Nash, New York
Herbert Baker, Los Angeles, 1972
Dr. and Mrs. Robert H. Kuhn, Los Angeles, 1973 to 1991
Exhibition History:
Conversations: African and African American Artworks in Dialogue - From the Collections of the Smithsonian National Museum of African Art and Camille O. and William H. Cosby, Jr., National Museum of African Art, Smithsonian Institution, November 7, 2014-January 24, 2016
Earth Matters: Land as Material and Metaphor in the Arts of Africa, National Museum of African Art, Smithsonian Institution, Washington, D.C., April 22, 2013-February 23, 2014
Treasures, National Museum of African Art, Smithsonian Institution, Washington, D.C., November 17, 2004-August 15, 2005
Celebrating our New Collection Catalogue Handbook, National Museum of African Art, Smithsonian Institution, Washington, D.C., February 2-June 5, 2000
African Art: Permutations of Power, Harn Museum of Art, University of Florida, Gainesville, October 12, 1997-February 15, 1998
Astonishment and Power: Kongo Minkisi and the Art of Renée Stout, National Museum of African Art, Smithsonian Institution, Washington, D.C., April 28, 1993-January 15, 1994
Published References:
Kreamer, Christine, Mary Nooter Roberts, Elizabeth Harney and Allyson Purpura. 2007. Inscribing Meaning: Writing and Graphic Systems in African Art. Washington, D.C.: Smithsonian Institution; Milan: 5 Continents Editions, p. 29, no. 2.1.
Kreamer, Christine Mullen and Adrienne L. Childs (eds). 2014. Conversations: African and African American Artworks in Dialogue from the Collections of the Smithsonian National Museum of African Art and Camille O. and William H. Cosby, Jr. Washington, D.C.: National Museum of African Art, Smithsonian Institution, p. 111, pl. 40.
Lehuard, Raoul. 1989. Art Bakongo: Les Centres de Style, Vol. I, Arnouville: Arts d'Afrique Noire, p. 105, no. D 4-4-1.
MacGaffey in MacGaffey, Wyatt and Michael Harris. 1993. Astonishment and Power, Washington D.C.: National Museum of African Art, Smithsonian Institution, pp. 11, 99-101, no. 64a-b.
MacGaffey, Wyatt. 1994. "Notes and Comments: African Objects and the Idea of Fetish." Res 25, pp. 123-131, no. 1.
Mellor, S. 2007. From Delicious to Not Quite Right: Subtleties in Discerning the Authenticity of African Art. Objects Specialty Group Postprints, Volume 14 CD. Washington, DC: American Institute for Conservation of Historic and Artistic Works. p.11.
Mellor, Stephen P. 2004. "The Exhibition and Conservation of African Objects: Considering the Nontangible." Art Tribal 7, pp. 114-115, no. 8.
Milbourne, Karen E. 2013. Earth Matters: Land as Material and Metaphor in the Arts of Africa. New York: The Monacelli Press; Washington, D.C.: National Museum of African Art, Smithsonian Institution, p. 114, no. 90.
National Museum of African Art. 1993. Astonishment and Power: Kongo Minkisi and the Art of Renée Stout. Exhibition booklet. Washington, D.C.: National Museum of African Art, Smithsonian Institution, cover.
National Museum of African Art. 1997. National Museum of African Art, 1987-1997: Celebrating 10 Years on the Mall. Museum brochure. Washington, D.C.: National Museum of African Art, Smithsonian Institution, no. 1991.
National Museum of African Art. 1999. Selected Works from the Collection of the National Museum of African Art. Washington, D.C.: National Museum of African Art, Smithsonian Institution, pp. 110-111, no. 76.
Patton, Sharon F. 2004. Treasures: Smithsonian National Museum of African Art. Washington, D.C.: National Museum of African Art, Smithsonian Institution. Folio.
Samuel P. Harn Museum. 1997. African Art: Permutations of Power. Gainesville: Samuel P. Harn Museum, University of Florida, cover, p. 2, no. 1.
Tembo, Mwizenge. 1999. Legends of Africa (Myths of the World series). New York: Metro Books, p. 60.
Turner, Jane (ed). 1996. "Africa." The Dictionary of Art, Vol. 1. New York: Grove, p. 233, no. 12.
Topic:
musical instrument  Search this
Power  Search this
male  Search this
Credit Line:
Gift of Dr. and Mrs. Robert Kuhn
Object number:
91-22-1
Restrictions & Rights:
Usage conditions apply
See more items in:
National Museum of African Art Collection
Data Source:
National Museum of African Art
GUID:
http://n2t.net/ark:/65665/ys78697ab57-531e-439b-824d-911de19424d1
EDAN-URL:
edanmdm:nmafa_91-22-1