Students will question how communities function and thrive. Who leads? Who enforces rules? Who solves problems?
National Core Standards
- Relate artistic ideas and works with societal, cultural, and historical context to deepen understanding
One class period
- Image of nkisi nkondi nail figure
- Discuss: How do you solve problems in the classroom? How do you discuss problems between friends? Who acts as an authority? What gives them that power?
- Research the background of the nkisi nkondi and how it was used in traditional Kongo culture. “In traditional villages, a religious specialist, who is also a healer and a legal expert, takes care of the spiritual and physical needs of the villagers with the assistance of a powerful carved figure, called a nkisi nkondi. Popularly known as nail figures, these sculptures were used for a wide variety of purposes, including to protect the village, to prove guilt or innocence, to heal the sick, to end disasters, to bring revenge, and to settle legal disputes. However, among most Kongo peoples, these figures are no longer used. Judicial procedures were carried out in public along well-prescribed lines. The people came before an image like this together with the specialist. Together they investigated and tried to understand whatever problem had plagued their village. When a problem was resolved, a disagreement settled, or the cure of an illness decided upon, the principal parties drove a blade, nail, screw, and/or another sharply pointed object into the nkisi nkondi. Thus, if two parties came before the figure to make peace with each other, the conditions agreed upon were symbolically lodged into the nkondi with a sharp object, similar to the Western tradition of signing a contract.” – From Minneapolis Institute of Art, http://www.artsconnected.org/resource/93730/nail-figure-nkisi-nkondi
- With student volunteers, enact a nkisi ceremony using a problem that could be found in your classroom. Give students a list of conflicts that occur at recess, lunch, and in class. Students brainstorm solutions together, as if they were the cultural leader paid to witness community contracts.
- Reach out: discuss what systems or reminders we have in our community for solving problems and keeping contracts.
Extension for older students:
Using the nkisi nkondi nail figure or other specific work (Tyree Guyton painting, Ganesha), students will grapple with defining culture and discuss how different cultures solve conflicts and challenges