Republic of Congo (Congo River Basin region); Kuyu peoples
Wood, pigments; H. 53 1/4 in. (135 cm)
Purchase, Funds from various donors, Daniel and Marian Malcolm Gift, and Laura and James J. Ross Gift, 2006 (2006.447)
Figures in this style were created by Kuyu sculptors in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries in the Congo River Basin region of northern Republic of Congo. The approximately forty known Kuyu figural sculptures are distinctive for their play between figurative and two-dimensional abstraction and their vibrant coloration. This early figure preserves the rich palette of natural red, white, and black pigments that was critical to its aesthetic appeal. Its monumental stature sets it apart, as does the degree to which its author conceived of the body as a canvas for an impressive expanse of boldly articulated visual signs, masterfully integrated into a harmonious composition. The work's most unusual feature, however, is the repetition of three nearly identical faces around the perimeter of the head. Even more so than the Janus-faced figures carved by other Kuyu sculptors, this three-headed protagonist embodies the idea of heightened powers of vision and omniscience.