Power FigureArtist(s)LubaArtist NationalityLuba (culture or style)Object Creation Datecirca 1850Medium & Supporthippopotamus ivoryDimensions
3 7/8 in x 1 1/4 in x 1 5/8 in (9.9 cm x 3.1 cm x 4.1 cm)Credit LineGift of Candis and Helmut SternSubject matter
This hippopotamus ivory statuette-pendant is one of a pair that are attributed to the Luba from the Democratic Republic of the Congo, both displaying the hallmark characteristics of their stylistic form. Both statuettes have been carved by the same hand and depict female figures, falling under the Luba sculptural genre known as mikishi mihasi
, a type of power figure that physically embodies the spirit of deceased relatives or benevolent ancestors. Mikishi mihasi
can take the form of medium-, small-, and, as is the case with these pendants, diminutive-sized figures. Acting as protective amulets, the wearer summons these female spirits in order to procure good health, fortune, and safety against any harm. More importantly, the pose of holding both breasts serves as a visual reminder of the female spirits’ assured assistance in fertility, and by extension, the continuation of the lineage—a chief concern among the community.
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
As one of a pair of delicately carved, ivory statuette-pendants, this female figure stands upright, as opposed to her counterpart whose head and upper body lean slightly forward. Both, however, have a round head with a convex face; large, coffeebean-shaped eyes; a rectangular mouth with prominent lips; a cylindrical neck; and, a coiffure decorated on the back with a cruciform pattern. Additionally, both female figures clutch their breasts in their hands. The statuettes have been pierced through, allowing them to suspend from a string.Primary Object Classification Sculpture Primary Object TypefigureAdditional Object Classification(s)JewelryCollection AreaAfricanRights
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