Songye Community Power Figure, Democratic Republic of the Congo

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Lot 231
Songye Community Power Figure, Democratic Republic of the Congo

Sold for US$ 68,825 inc. premium
Songye Community Power Figure, Democratic Republic of the Congo
height 35 1/2in (90.2cm)

Provenance
Merton D. Simpson, New York
Allan Stone Collection, New York, acquired from the above in 1983

John Mack notes, "The term by which the Songye designate their magical figures--nkisi (pl. mankisi)--is encountered elsewhere in widely dispersed parts of central Africa. [...] Nkisi 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 uses have in common, however, is that they serve to comprise an 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 with 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 examples [as illustrated 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 such 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 as persons 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. [...]

Communal mankisi are used to achieve benign ends. The need of their magical intervention in human affairs may be signalled by such phenomena as persistent dreams of imminent danger among those charged with their care: premonitions expressed in visions of lightning and fire, or deep ravines. [...] Although dedicated to ensuring the health and welfare of the community, these figures are not exponent of the bedside manner but confrontational objects, objects with attitude." (Phillips, Tom ed., Africa - The Art of a Continent, Royal Academy of Arts, London, 1995, p. 283-284)

This superb nkisi projects tremendous presence through both the powerful physical features as well as the expressive and engaging facial features: the massive round head which would have supported a large horn in the top as evidenced by the size of the hole; the large cylindrical neck which supports the head and the broad, rounded shoulders. The figure is charged with magical elements including the bundle inserted into the abdomen, the goat horn (Capra hircus) hanging from his belt and the red scarf worn around the neck. The large and powerful hands rest against the abdomen in front. The engaging expression on the face, with his mouth open as if in a trance, is further enhanced with applied sheet metal and tacks, cowrie-shell eyes and a series of nails inserted into the forehead.
Contacts
Songye Community Power Figure, Democratic Republic of the Congo
Songye Community Power Figure, Democratic Republic of the Congo
Songye Community Power Figure, Democratic Republic of the Congo
Songye Community Power Figure, Democratic Republic of the Congo
Songye Community Power Figure, Democratic Republic of the Congo
Songye Community Power Figure, Democratic Republic of the Congo
Songye Community Power Figure, Democratic Republic of the Congo
Songye Community Power Figure, Democratic Republic of the Congo
Songye Community Power Figure, Democratic Republic of the Congo
Songye Community Power Figure, Democratic Republic of the Congo
Songye Community Power Figure, Democratic Republic of the Congo
Songye Community Power Figure, Democratic Republic of the Congo
Songye Community Power Figure, Democratic Republic of the Congo
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