Also referred to simply, as the Nkisi, the Nkisi Mkondi is a sculpture representing a magical container in the human form that is believed to hold the spiritual power that can be used for various cultural practices. These cultural practices include protection from evil, performance of magical spells, as well as, exerting spiritual powers on a certain group of people (Dallas Art Museum 1). This sculpture is distinctive to the communities living within the Democratic republic of Congo, and for that reason is a significant piece of art for these communities. Originally sculptured through the use of various materials such as wood, ceramics, cowries, animal skin, and blades, the sculpture stands at 45 inches in length, 15 inches in width, and 11 inches in breadth (Dallas Art Museum 1). In layman language, the sculpture is also refers to as the standing power figures and it comes in various forms such as pots, wood figures of animal or human form, shells or cloth bundles. Each of these forms of the Nkisi is accorded a special name, purpose and ritual. Accordingly, these containers are filled with special empowering medicines, which can be placed on the head, belly, or back of the Nkisi (Dallas Art Museum 1) The medicine put in these containers is referred to as Bilongo, and it is usually made of various elements such as minerals, plants, animal deposit and grave dirt among other things. This specific Dallas Nkisi originates from a class of Nkisi called the Nkondi. It belongs to a class of Nkisis which are considered as having hunting powers for the tracking of wrongdoers in relation to matters of civil law (Dallas Art Museum 1). For that reason, this Nkisi is used by authoritative figures in the community such as judges, chiefs, priests and even doctors.
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This paper provides a critical Analysis of the picture, Nkisi Nkondi, illustrating the form, content, technique, historical connections, and value of this piece of art.
The sculpture of the Nkisi Nkondi was specifically chosen for this study because of its visual appeal, as well as, the cultural elements associated with this piece. At the outset, the sculpture appeals to its audience in that it looks like a miniature caricature of an African medicine man ready for the performance of a traditional event. Notably, the human figure in the sculpture seems to have metal blades coming out of his chest area, which signifies the amount of power that in turn spikes a level of interest in the piece of art. Additionally, this sculpture was chosen for this study because of the indirect comical factor in the piece of art. The bulging eyeballs, face painting, as well as, the torn clothe-like materials on the sculpture indicate an interesting story behind the existence of this piece of art.
In terms of form, the sculpture incorporate various principles and elements of art. Visually, one notices five main artistic factors such as color, use of line, and diverse textures, in relation to the principles of art. The color used for the sculpture is brown, which represents the skin color of the African community. This color gives the piece of art a sense of belonging as it links the piece of art to the Jungles of Africa. The colors white, red and yellow can also be identified in the sculpture as they are used in unity or contrastingly to the dominant brown color. The use of line in the sculpture is used in two main ways including the 3D imaging of the sculptures, as well as, the individual line drawings on the sculpture such as around the eyes.
As explained in the museum text of the sculpture, this piece of art is intended for hunting purposes. This implies that the sculpture has special hunting and capturing capabilities of evil spirits. A closer look at the sculpture gives the “hunter” feel of the Nkisi Nkondi, in that it appears to have magical powers. The blades emerging from the chest of the sculpture provide the audience with the sense that the sculpture’s forces are around its chest and belly. The seed-like form at the centre of the belly also gives the sense that the sculptures power is around the belly area.
As illustrated in the museum text, this sculpture is made from 13 different artistic materials including wood, iron, raffia, ceramic, pigment, kaolin, red camwood, resin, dirt, leaves, animal skin, and cowrie shell (Dallas Art Museum). Speculatively, the wood was used to sculpt the overall shape and form of the sculpture, whereas all the other materials are added on to the sculpture by gluing.
The sculpture of the Nkisi Nkondi is historically connected with the Kongo Nail Fetishes, stories about the mystic nails that had spiritual powers during the time.
This piece of sculpture has both spiritual and expressive value. The expressive value of the piece of art is illustrated in the way the sculpture has been made using the different artistic materials. This piece of art is an expression of the culture of the people living in the DRC. The piece of art also has a spiritual value as it is used for spiritual purposes for the community.
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66.2 (2008): 22, 40.
Bassani, Ezio. “Kongo Nail Fetishes from the Chiloango River Area.” African Arts
10.3 (1977): 36-40.
MacGaffey, Wyatt, and Michael Harris. Astonishment and Power: Kongo Minkisi and the Art of
Renée Stout. Washington, D.C.: Smithsonian Institution Press for the National Museum of African Art, 1993. p. 44. 21. Print.
“Standing Power Figure: Nkisi Nkondi”. Dallas Museum of Art.
Thompson, Robert F. “The Grand Detroit N’kondi.” Bulletin of the Detroit Institute of Art
4.1 (1978): 206–221.
Vanhee, Hein (2000). “Agents of Order and Disorder: Kongo Minkisi,” New
Perspectives on African Collections of the Horniman Museum. London and Coimbra, (2000); 89-106.
Wyatt, M. Religion and Society in Central Africa: The BaKongo of Lower Zaire Chicago:
University of Chicago Press, 2000. Print.
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