Male figure (nkisi nkondi)

Male figure (nkisi nkondi)

late 1800s-early 1900s

Wood, metalized glass, iron, organic material, ivory or plastic, and natural fiber

Overall: 46 x 25.7 x 19.2 cm (18 1/8 x 10 1/8 x 7 9/16 in.)

René and Odette Delenne Collection, Leonard C. Hanna, Jr. Fund 2010.432

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A mix of locally made and imported metal nails, blades, and screws cover this figure.


This nkisi nkondi (power figure) lacks most of the materials that transformed it into a vessel for a spirit. Carved by sculptors, minkisi hosted spirits after banganga (priests) placed substances inside to empower them. The mirrored eyes, resin cap, and stomach chamber once contained empowering materials. After the nkisi had served its purpose the nganga removed the materials, stripping it of its spiritual power; the remaining sculpture was discarded. Sometimes, Kongo people removed materials as acts of anti-colonial resistance, disempowering minkisi before Europeans seized them. While we don’t know why it was disempowered, this sculpture is no longer spiritually active.

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