Large Songye Power Figure, Democratic Republic of the Congo

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Lot 132Y
Large Songye Power Figure, Democratic Republic of the Congo

Sold for US$ 50,000 inc. premium
Large Songye Power Figure, Democratic Republic of the Congo
nkisi
Wood, copper, iron, snake skin, cowrie shell, fiber, horn, magical substances
height 30 1/2in (77.5cm)

The standing male figure with nailed copper strips on the face and covering the open mouth, cowrie shell eyes and a double row of arrow points with the tips folded crowning the forehead, a large horn inserted into the top of the forehead, squared shoulders with the forearms resting at the abdomen, magic substances embedded behind the right shoulder, in the navel, the anus and contained in a belt around the hips, the legs slightly bent at the knees and large feet firmly placed on the round base; heavy brown wood with traces of pigment.

PROVENANCE
Alfred Tschappat Collection, Zurich (no. 34)
Private Collection, Switzerland
Marc Felix, Brussels (FX98 0925)
James L. Ludwig Collection, San Francisco, California

PUBLISHED
Afrique Noire - Sculptures des collections privées Suisses, La Chaux-De-Fonds, Musée des Beaux-Arts, 27 March - 6 June, 1971, fig. 34

According the Daniel Biebuyck, 'The term by which the Songye designate their magical figures - nkisi (pl. mankisi) - is encountered elsewhere in widely dispersed parts of central Africa. In southern Zambia, for instance, it is used by the Mbunda of their masks. Equally, it is used among the Kongo on the Atlantic coast as a generic term with a wide range of reference: included here, however, are the magical figures that the Kongo too create. Nkisi, then, is a "key word" deeply embedded in many different Bantu languages. Taken as a whole it becomes virtually untranslatable by reason of the very diversity of objects, substances and activities that it serves to designate. What all the various usages have in common, however, is that they serve to comprise the assemblage of objects and entities whose efficacy and capacity to influence the affairs of the living depend upon some external agency, usually identified with spirits or ancestors.

Among the Songye it is only magical figures that are identified as mankisi...There are two kinds of nkisi. One, which is much smaller in scale (and by far the more numerous), is personal in application and ownership: restricted to individuals or, at most, to households or nuclear families. The larger examples [as in the work presented here]..., however, are much larger and, in their deliberate attempt to embody strength and power, more formidable in conception. They function on behalf of complete communities, and occasionally - where their powers are widely extolled - they may serve a more extensive constituency.

The efficacy of mankisi has several sources. Most important are the many different types of substance and paraphernalia applied to the figures. Most of these are regarded as inherently powerful or aggressive - substances as parts of lions, leopards, snakes, bees and birds of prey; the sexual organs of crocodiles and earth from the tracks of elephants; human elements taken from such exceptional categories of person as suicides, sorcerers, epileptics or twins. Items of regalia may also festoon the figure, recalling the typical attributes of chiefly dress or of the hunter. The figures themselves are always male and have a combination of characteristics that constitute a generalised reference to ancestors.' (Phillips: 1995, p. 283)
Contacts
Large Songye Power Figure, Democratic Republic of the Congo
Large Songye Power Figure, Democratic Republic of the Congo
Large Songye Power Figure, Democratic Republic of the Congo
Large Songye Power Figure, Democratic Republic of the Congo
Large Songye Power Figure, Democratic Republic of the Congo
Large Songye Power Figure, Democratic Republic of the Congo
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