Commemorative Figure (Singiti)
Arts of Africa
This commemorative figure, which appears in profile in one of Edmonds’s nearby photographs, was made by a Hemba artist in what is today the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC). Originally housed in a building that would have been centrally located within the community, these figures were meant to be seen only by ancestors and the current leaders who cared for them.
Within Ralph Ellison’s collection, such an object took on new meanings, tied to social, political, and aesthetic concerns during the writer’s lifetime. As numerous critics and biographers have noted, Ellison himself had a conflicted relationship to African culture as well as to politics around race in the United States. While he collected figures, masks, and other objects as fine art, most of which he bought from dealers in New York, Ellison claimed his interest did not grow out of a desire for cultural connection to Africa.
Edmonds’s photograph of this sculpture—made by an artist from the DRC, once owned by Ellison, and now in the possession of the Brooklyn Museum—offers up a complicated web of colonial power, modernist history, diaspora, and taste.
Wood, cotton, organic materials
early 20th century
26 3/4 × 9 3/4 × 8 1/4 in. (67.9 × 24.8 × 21 cm) (show scale)
Gift of the Ralph and Fanny Ellison Charitable Trust
This item is not on view
Hemba artist. Commemorative Figure (Singiti), early 20th century. Wood, cotton, organic materials, 26 3/4 × 9 3/4 × 8 1/4 in. (67.9 × 24.8 × 21 cm). Brooklyn Museum, Gift of the Ralph and Fanny Ellison Charitable Trust, 2015.88.2. Creative Commons-BY (Photo: Brooklyn Museum, 2015.88.2_front_PS9.jpg)
front, 2015.88.2_front_PS9.jpg. Brooklyn Museum photograph, 2015
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