Hemba Male Figure, Democratic Republic of the Congo
height 33in (83.8cm)
Private Collection, Belgium
A photograph taken in May 1971 of the work in situ, together with another similar figure currently in the collection of Paolo Morigi, accompanies the work.
According to LaGamma (2011: p. 228), "Known as lusingiti (plural of singiti), these figures afforded the possibility of direct engagement with the most influential ancestors of an extended family. Consequently, petitions were made at the site of the sculptures themselves (they were usually kept within an enclosure, not on public view)...
...In their original context, these Hemba figures constituted eloquent artistic programs. The commissioning of a commemorative image was not undertaken immediately following the death of a leader but rather was built upon a foundation of mediation that embraced personal forms of commemoration and communication through dreams. The legacy of that exchange was eventually made concrete through the creation of a marker named for its subject. The sophistication of the representations and the depth of the related oral narratives are evidence of a cultural tradition developed and continually refined over many generations, although the extent of its past is not known. As the cherished inheritance of each precolonial leader, the sculptures not only validated chiefly authority but also provide aspirational examplars of how that role should be fulfilled, reflecting the profound nature of the relationship between a new chief and his precursors. Given the degree of the idealization of that depiction, the name of a work was related to its individual subject by word of mouth."
The present figure stands stoically on a round base with characteristic short legs, elongated torso, the hands resting at the protruding navel, the head with a tranquil face, a finely carved beard and with back-swept coiffure in the shape of a cross, resting on a ringed neck.