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Power Figure (Nkisi Nkondi)

Arts of Africa

An nkisi nkondi serves as a container for potent ingredients used in magic and medicine, and in judicial and healing contexts. To make an nkisi nkondi, a carver begins by sculpting a human or animal figure with a cavity in the abdomen; then a ritual expert completes the work by placing ingredients with supernatural powers on the object and in the cavity provided. He activates the figure by breathing into the cavity and immediately seals it off with a mirror. Nails and blades are driven into the figure, either to affirm an oath or to destroy an evil force. The figure’s pose suggests that it may once have been carrying a knife or spear.
MEDIUM Wood, iron, glass, fiber, pigment, bone
DATES late 19th–early 20th century
DIMENSIONS 24 x 6 1/2 x 8 1/2 in. (61.5 x 17.0 x 21.5 cm)  (show scale)
COLLECTIONS Arts of Africa
CREDIT LINE Gift of Arturo and Paul Peralta-Ramos
CATALOGUE DESCRIPTION Standing figure with right arm raised, stomach has square box for magical material covered with piece of glass. Figure stands on base, mouth open, tongue protrudes, glass inlaid eyes. Surface covered with tar(?) (heavy black substance). Form almost completely covered by nails. CONDITION: Poor; wood split up legs, arms broken, wood rotted, glass on container cracked.
MUSEUM LOCATION This item is not on view
CAPTION Kongo (Solongo or Woyo subgroup). Power Figure (Nkisi Nkondi), late 19th–early 20th century. Wood, iron, glass, fiber, pigment, bone, 24 x 6 1/2 x 8 1/2 in. (61.5 x 17.0 x 21.5 cm). Brooklyn Museum, Gift of Arturo and Paul Peralta-Ramos, 56.6.98. Creative Commons-BY (Photo: Brooklyn Museum, 56.6.98_front_PS6.jpg)
IMAGE front, 56.6.98_front_PS6.jpg. Brooklyn Museum photograph, 2011
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