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Power Figure


Artwork Details

Power Figure
circa 1850
hippopotamus ivory
3 1/2 in x 1 1/4 in x 1 5/8 in (8.89 cm x 3.18 cm x 4.13 cm)
Gift of Candis and Helmut Stern

On Display

Not currently on display


Subject Matter:

This ivory statuette-pendant, which is one of a pair, is attributed to the Luba of the Democratic Republic of the Congo.  Both statuettes depict female figures and, in fact, fall under the Luba sculptural genre known as mikishi mihasi, a type of power figure that physically embodies the spirit of deceased relatives or benevolent ancestors.  Mikishi mihasi can take the form of medium, small, and, as is the case with these pendants, diminutive-sized figures.  Acting as protective amulets, the wearer summons these female spirits in order to procure good health, fortune, and safety against any harm.  More importantly, the pose of holding both breasts serves as a visual reminder of the female spirits’ 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:

One of a pair of delicately carved, hippopotamus ivory statuette-pendants.  This female figure's head and upper body lean slightly forward, as opposed to her counterpart who stands upright.  Both, however, have been carved by the same hand and display the hallmark characteristics of the northeastern Luba stylistic form, namely: the round head with a convex face, large, coffeebean-shaped eyes, a rectangular mouth with prominent lips, a cylindrical neck, and a coiffure decorated on the back with a cruciform pattern. Additionally, both female figures clutch their breasts in their hands, a pose commonly seen among Luba sculptures of women. The statuettes have been pierced through, allowing them to suspend from a string.

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