About This Artwork


Reliquary Half Figure (Nlo Bieri), Late 19th/early 20th century

Wood with oil
50.2 x 14.6 x 14.9 cm (19 3/4 x 5 3/4 x 5 7/8 in.)

Gift of Mr. and Mrs. Raymond Wielgus, 1958.302

According to traditional Fang beliefs, infants are closely aligned with ancestors and only become fully human as they age. Playing on this association, reliquary figures often combine features of infants and the elderly. This haunting figure has rounded arms and childlike hands. Metal disks at the eyes (now missing) gave it the wide-eyed stare of a baby. In contrast, it has the sunken cheeks and drawn mouth of someone near death. For the Fang, these visual and conceptual oppositions, when successfully balanced, give a figure vitality and animation, qualities that are important in a reliquary that is the focus of an ongoing relationship with an ancestor.

— Permanent collection label

Exhibition, Publication and Ownership Histories

Exhibition History

Art Institute of Chicago, African Art: Collection of Raymond Wielgus, April 13–June 16, 1957, cat. 31.

Milwaukee, Wis., Layton School of Art, African Sculpture, Jan. 3-Feb. 9, 1957, cat. 33.

Denver Art Museum, Art of Africa, March 22-May 17, 1964.

West Lafayette, Ind., Purdue University Department of Creative Arts, African Art, April 6-28, 1970, cat. 56.

Publication History

Ladislas Segy, African Sculpture Speaks (New York: A.A. Weyn, Inc. 1952), p. 192, figs. 80 and 81.

Art Institute of Chicago, African Art: Collection of Raymond Wielgus, exh. cat. (Art Institute of Chicago, 1957), n. pag., cat. 31 (ill.).

Allan Frumkin, African Sculpture: Collection of Mr. and Mrs. Raymond Wielgus, exh. cat, (Milwaukee, WI.: Layton School of Art, 1957), cat. 33 (ill.).

Allen Wardwell, Primitive Art in the Collections of the Art Institute of Chicago (Art Institute of Chicago, 1965), n. pag., pl. 55.

African Art, exh. cat. (Purdue University Department of Creative Arts, 1970), n. pag., cat. 56.

Kathleen Bickford Berzock, "African Art at the Art Institute of Chicago," African Arts 32, 4 (Winter 1999), pp. 26-27, fig. 11.

Ownership History

Raymond (died 2010) and Laura Wielgus, Chicago, Ill., by 1957; given to the Art Institute, 1958.

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