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Power Figure

Accession Number
2005/1.212

Title
Power Figure

Artist(s)
Luba

Artist Nationality
Luba (culture or style)

Object Creation Date
circa 1890

Medium & Support
wood, beads, cotton cloth, and string

Dimensions
14 7/8 in x 4 5/16 in x 3 1/8 in (37.78 cm x 10.95 cm x 7.94 cm)

Credit Line
Gift of Candis and Helmut Stern

Subject matter
This woodcarved, female nkisi mihasi (pl. minkisi mihasi), or “benevolent” power figure, originates from the Luba population of Kisale in the Upemba Basin, located in what is today the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Falling under the Luba sculptural genre known as minkisi mihasi, these figures are regarded as receptacles of the spirits of deceased, beloved relatives or benevolent ancestors. The owner of such a figure would call upon these spirits in order to procure good health, fortune, and safety against any harm.

In this particular nkisi mihasi, the female’s protruding breasts as well as the crescent-shaped scarification design upon the pelvis clearly evoke the themes of reproduction and maternity. Furthermore, the spirit of the the moon, which is associated with women, represents fecundity and the cycle of life and death. This nkisi mihasi, therefore, serves as a visual and tactile reminder of the deceased female spirit’s assured assistance in fertility, and by extension, the continuation of the lineage--a chief concern among the community.

Reference:
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
This standing female nkisi mihasi, or “benevolent” power figure, exhibits many of the typical traits associated with the Luba of the Upemba Basin, and more specifically, with the Kisale center of production. These features include a disproportionately elongated torso, terraced coiffure, diamond-shaped scarification patterns covering the abdomen and back, and, a crescent moon symbol on the pubis. In addition, this figure possesses a round head with almond-shaped eyes, an open mouth, flat and level shoulders, protruding breasts and bellybutton, and horizontal lines across its upper thighs. Multiple strands of white, dark blue, and light blue beads adorn the figure’s neck, upper chest, wrist, hips, and ankle. A cotton loincloth has been wrapped around the figure’s hips.

Primary Object Classification
Sculpture

Primary Object Type
figure

Additional Object Classification(s)
Wood and Woodcarving

Collection Area
African

Rights
If you are interested in using an image for a publication, please visit http://umma.umich.edu/request-image for more information and to fill out the online Image Rights and Reproductions Request Form. Keywords
ancestors
beads (pierced objects)
crescents (motifs)
fertility
minkisi
power
scarifications (visual works)
spirits (beings)

2 Related Resources

Fashion and Adornments in Global History
(Part of 3 Learning Collections)
Cabinet W: Shelf 4
(Part of: Albertine Monroe-Brown Study-Storage Gallery)

& Author Notes

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