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Power Figure


Artwork Details

Power Figure
circa 1900
8 1/4 in x 2 1/2 in x 2 1/2 in (21 cm x 6.4 cm x 6.4 cm)
Gift of Candis and Helmut Stern

On Display

Not currently on display


Subject Matter:

This woodcarved nkishi mihasi (pl. mikishi mihasi), or “benevolent” power figure, is attributed to the western Luba Shankadi people from the Democratic Republic of the Congo and exhibits many of the traits found in their figural sculpture, including the type of wood used. Falling under the Luba sculptural genre known as mikishi 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 nkishi mihasi, the female’s positioning of her hands alongside the breasts as well as the crescent-shaped scarification motifs upon the pelvis clearly evoke the themes of reproduction and maternity. More specifically, the spirit of the the moon, which is associated with women, represents fecundity and the cycling of life and death. Hence, this nkishi mihasi serves as a visual reminder of the 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 woodcarved figure exhibits elaborate diamond-shaped scarifications throughout the torso and crescent-shaped ones across the pubis; a disproportionately long trunk; and, protruding breasts and umbilicus. With semi-spherical feet, the figure stands with knees slightly bent. Her round head features an angular face; a large, concave forehead; coffeebean-shaped eyes; a triangular nose; a small mouth; and a coiffure styled in cascading tiers. The elbows are bent such that her fingers rest atop the shoulders, adjacent to the breasts.

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