Male Figure (Nkisi Nkondi)

A work made of wood, metal, glass, fabric, fiber, cowrie shell, bone, leather, gourd, and feather.
CC0 Public Domain Designation

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  • A work made of wood, metal, glass, fabric, fiber, cowrie shell, bone, leather, gourd, and feather.

Date:

Early/mid–19th century

Artist:

Vili
Republic of the Congo
Central Africa

About this artwork

This striking figure, with its serenely rendered face and violently pierced body, was made to contain and direct a spirit in order to assist people in need. Among the Vili and other Kongo language speakers, Nkondi means “hunter” in the Kongo language and refers to the spirit’s power to track down the source of trouble. The figure’s cap and assertive pose, with hands on hips and chin thrusting forward, suggest those of a chief, and like a chief, the figure and its associated spirit were called on to enforce laws and exact punishment. The spirit was drawn into the sculpture through the application of medicinal ingredients packed in resin on its head and in the projecting box, sealed by a mirror, on its abdomen. These ingredients were selected for their associations with the ancestral world (such as earth from graves) and for their metaphorical associations with the spirit’s powers. Medicines may also have been related directly to the figure’s function; for instance, the chain may refer to the spirit’s ability to immobilize its victims. A nail or a blade was driven into the sculpture each time its force was invoked through ritual, thereby provoking the spirit into action.

On View

Arts of Africa, Gallery 137

Artist

Vili (Culture)

Title

Male Figure (Nkisi Nkondi)

Places

Republic of the Congo (Object made in), Africa (Object made in)

Date

1801-1875

Medium

Wood, metal, glass, fabric, fiber, cowrie shell, bone, leather, gourd, and feather

Dimensions

H. 72 cm (28 1/3 in.)

Credit Line

Ada Turnbull Hertle Endowment

Reference Number

1998.502

Extended information about this artwork

Object information is a work in progress and may be updated as new research findings emerge. To help improve this record, please email .

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