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.
- Vili (Culture)
- Male Figure (Nkisi Nkondi)
- Republic of the Congo (Object made in), Africa (Object made in)
- Wood, metal, glass, fabric, fiber, cowrie shell, bone, leather, gourd, and feather
- H. 72 cm (28 1/3 in.)
- Ada Turnbull Hertle Endowment