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Power Figure


Artwork Details

Power Figure
circa 1890
wood, beads, cotton cloth, and string
14 7/8 in x 4 5/16 in x 3 1/8 in (37.78 cm x 10.95 cm x 7.94 cm)
Gift of Candis and Helmut Stern

On Display

Not currently on display


Subject Matter:

This woodcarved, female nkisi mihasi (pl. minkisi mihasi), or “benevolent” power figure, originates from the Luba population of Kisale in the Upemba Basin, located in what is today the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Falling under the Luba sculptural genre known as minkisi mihasi, these figures are regarded as receptacles of the spirits of deceased, beloved relatives or benevolent ancestors. The owner of such a figure would call upon these spirits in order to procure good health, fortune, and safety against any harm.

In this particular nkisi mihasi, the female’s protruding breasts as well as the crescent-shaped scarification design upon the pelvis clearly evoke the themes of reproduction and maternity. Furthermore, the spirit of the the moon, which is associated with women, represents fecundity and the cycle of life and death. This nkisi mihasi, therefore, serves as a visual and tactile reminder of the deceased female spirit’s assured assistance in fertility, and by extension, the continuation of the lineage--a chief concern among the community.

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 standing female nkisi mihasi, or “benevolent” power figure, exhibits many of the typical traits associated with the Luba of the Upemba Basin, and more specifically, with the Kisale center of production. These features include a disproportionately elongated torso, terraced coiffure, diamond-shaped scarification patterns covering the abdomen and back, and, a crescent moon symbol on the pubis. In addition, this figure possesses a round head with almond-shaped eyes, an open mouth, flat and level shoulders, protruding breasts and bellybutton, and horizontal lines across its upper thighs. Multiple strands of white, dark blue, and light blue beads adorn the figure’s neck, upper chest, wrist, hips, and ankle. A cotton loincloth has been wrapped around the figure’s hips.

Usage Rights:

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