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Power Figure


Artwork Details

Power Figure
circa 1880
9 5/8 in x 2 11/16 in x 2 1/2 in (24.45 cm x 6.83 cm x 6.35 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 Mwanza center or production among the Luba Shankadi, who reside in 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.

This particular nkisi mihasi represents the first female royal chief Cimbale Banda, who successfully unified numerous clans of the Bena Kalundwe under one strong and cohesive empire, a monumental feat. The positioning of her hands upon her breasts indicates that she carries deep within her royal and dynastic secrets. Cimbale is regarded as the Luba heroine par excellence, and her spirit is invoked on account of the supernatural powers she possesses.

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, has been carved in light wood and exhibits many of the typical traits associated with the Luba Shankadi style, and more specifically, with the Mwanza center of production. These features include its disproportionately large, ovoid face, half open coffeebean-like eyes, wide mouth with full lips, triangular nose, high, convex forehead, cascading coiffure, protruding umbilicus, and, diamond-shaped tattoos carved in relief on the belly and in horizontal lines on the lower back and upper thighs. The figure stands with slightly flexed knees and with its arms bent at the elbows such that its palms rest upon the breasts, a pose commonly seen throughout Luba figural depictions of women.

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