Power Figure: Male (Nkisi)

19th–mid-20th century
Democratic Republic of the Congo
Kongo peoples
Wood, pigment, nails, cloth, beads, shells, arrows, leather, nuts, twine
H. 23 1/8 x D. 10 1/4 x W. 10 in. (58.8 x 26 x 25.4 cm)
Credit Line:
The Michael C. Rockefeller Memorial Collection, Bequest of Nelson A. Rockefeller, 1979
Accession Number:
  • Description

    This work was the product of close collaboration between a sculptor and the ritual specialist nganga who controlled its use in his professional practice. After an artist completed carving the figure, the nganga transformed it into an instrument capable of healing illness, settling disputes, safeguarding the peace, and punishing wrongdoers. Every nkisi is associated with a spirit that is subjected to a degree of human control. This example is especially striking for its reflective inward expression and the abundance of amulets, secondary figures, and attachments that drape the surface of its body.
    This nkisi has been a highlight of the Rockefeller collection since its acquisition in 1952. An unusual example of Kongo nkisi, this work does not fit within the category defined by d'Harnoncourt as his "Desiderata" for Western Congo. Such a departure from his established collecting methodology suggests d'Harnoncourt's openness to stray occasionally from the set guidelines he was following in order to seize rare opportunities to purchase particularly moving works when they appeared on the market.

  • Provenance

    Donald H. Peters; [Samuel M. Kootz Gallery, New York, until 1952]; Nelson A. Rockefeller, New York, 1952, on loan to The Museum of Primitive Art, 1959–1978