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Power Figure

Accession Number
2005/1.220.2

Title
Power Figure

Artist(s)
Luba

Artist Nationality
Luba (culture or style)

Object Creation Date
circa 1850

Medium & Support
hippopotamus ivory

Dimensions
3 1/2 in x 1 1/4 in x 1 5/8 in (8.89 cm x 3.18 cm x 4.13 cm)

Credit Line
Gift of Candis and Helmut Stern

Subject matter
This ivory statuette-pendant, which is one of a pair, is attributed to the Luba of the Democratic Republic of the Congo.  Both statuettes depict female figures and, in fact, fall 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.  

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
One of a pair of delicately carved, hippopotamus ivory statuette-pendants.  This female figure's head and upper body lean slightly forward, as opposed to her counterpart who stands upright.  Both, however, have been carved by the same hand and display the hallmark characteristics of the northeastern Luba stylistic form, namely: the 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, a pose commonly seen among Luba sculptures of women. The statuettes have been pierced through, allowing them to suspend from a string.

Primary Object Classification
Sculpture

Primary Object Type
figure

Additional Object Classification(s)
Jewelry

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
amulets
ancestors
fertility
ivories (sculptures)
pendants (jewelry)
power
protection (maintenance function)

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& Author Notes

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