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Figure

Yaka

Artwork Details

Figure
circa 1920
Yaka
wood
13 3/4 in x 2 13/16 in x 3 1/8 in (34.9 cm x 7.2 cm x 7.9 cm)
Gift of Candis and Helmut Stern
2005/1.193

On Display

Not currently on display

Description

Subject Matter:

This carved, wooden figure of a standing male with an anteater perched atop its head is attributed to the Yaka, who today live in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. The Yaka produce two genres of figural sculptures: the power figure (nkisi) which bears medicinal ingredients and the ancestral figure (bakhaaka or bapfumu). According to Yaka belief, the latter are regarded as receptacles of the spirits of deceased ancestors. Healers, diviners, and chiefs use these figures in order to invoke the ancestors’ intercession and guidance. Therefore, figures such as this one serve as visual and tactile reminders of the ancestors’ assured assistance in procuring good health, fortune, and protection against any harm. Here, the anteater symbolizes fertility, and by extension, the continuity of the family line—a primary concern among members of the community.

Reference:
Maurer, Evan M. and Niangi Batulukisi.  Spirits Embodied:  Art of the Congo, Selections from the Helmut F. Stern Collection.  Minneapolis:  The Minneapolis Institute of Arts, 1999

Physical Description:

This carved, wooden Yaka figure depicts a man standing with an animal perched atop his head. The carving is stylized and exhibits characteristics typically seen among northern Yaka figural representations: flexed knees; arms bent with upturned palms positioned at shoulder level; and, an animal figure upon its head. In this case, the creature has a curved body and appears to be an anteater. The male figure has a narrow, cylindrical body; a slightly protruding belly; a simple coiffure; an elongated face; barely-open eyes from which vertical lines extend downward; a disproportionately large, pointed nose, and a darkened beard.

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