Skip Navigation

Power Figure (Nkisi Nkondi)

Arts of Africa

African art is conceptual art. In both form and use, it reveals sophisticated systems of knowledge, but rarely directly. These two seemingly unrelated works express hidden and poignant ideas about security and liberty.

An nkisi nkondi embodies defensive power and was used to protect a community. To complete this sculpture, a ritual expert placed potent ingredients associated with supernatural powers in the cavity carved into the figure’s abdomen. Nails and blades activated the spirit that was now accessible through the figure. This nkisi's pose, with hands on hips, symbolizes its readiness to defend the righteous and to destroy enemies.

In Viyé Diba's work, the piece of painted yellow wood, projecting between the seams of the woven canvas, and the abstract forms that suggest fleeing figures at the top evoke the possibility of liberation—from the literal plane of the canvas, from the strictures of painting and sculpture, or, perhaps, from the history of the city of Dakar itself, the site of a former way station in the trade of human captives. Diba's art is composed entirely of materials he found walking around Dakar.
CULTURE Kakongo artist
MEDIUM Wood, iron, glass, resin, kaolin, pigment, plant fiber, cloth
DATES 19th century, with 20th century restoration
DIMENSIONS 33 7/8 x 13 3/4 x 11 in. (86 x 34.9 x 27.9 cm)  (show scale)
COLLECTIONS Arts of Africa
MUSEUM LOCATION This item is not on view
CREDIT LINE Museum Expedition 1922, Robert B. Woodward Memorial Fund
You may download and use Brooklyn Museum images of this three-dimensional work in accordance with a Creative Commons license. Fair use, as understood under the United States Copyright Act, may also apply. Please include caption information from this page and credit the Brooklyn Museum. If you need a high resolution file, please fill out our online application form (charges apply). For further information about copyright, we recommend resources at the United States Library of Congress, Cornell University, Copyright and Cultural Institutions: Guidelines for U.S. Libraries, Archives, and Museums, and Copyright Watch. For more information about the Museum's rights project, including how rights types are assigned, please see our blog posts on copyright. If you have any information regarding this work and rights to it, please contact
CAPTION Kakongo artist. Power Figure (Nkisi Nkondi), 19th century, with 20th century restoration. Wood, iron, glass, resin, kaolin, pigment, plant fiber, cloth, 33 7/8 x 13 3/4 x 11 in. (86 x 34.9 x 27.9 cm). Brooklyn Museum, Museum Expedition 1922, Robert B. Woodward Memorial Fund, 22.1421. Creative Commons-BY (Photo: , 22.1421_overall_PS9.jpg)
IMAGE overall, 22.1421_overall_PS9.jpg., 2019
"CUR" at the beginning of an image file name means that the image was created by a curatorial staff member. These study images may be digital point-and-shoot photographs, when we don\'t yet have high-quality studio photography, or they may be scans of older negatives, slides, or photographic prints, providing historical documentation of the object.
CATALOGUE DESCRIPTION Image of a man, stuck with nails and knives. Mirror in navel. Free carved feet standing on a block. Hands at hips. Stained white in most parts. Four flat pronged high headdress. Open mouth with teeth and tongue showing. Bracelets around biceps. Condition: Good
Not every record you will find here is complete. More information is available for some works than for others, and some entries have been updated more recently. Records are frequently reviewed and revised, and we welcome any additional information you might have.