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African Art
Artist: Benoît Madya, Kitombe, Democratic Republic of the Congo

Engraved Calabash

ca. 1930

Calabash, kaolin, and string

8 11/16 in. (22.1 cm)
Purchased with a gift from Mrs. Stephanie W. Kessler, B.A. 1979, in memory of Charles B. Benenson, B.A. 1933
The ornamentation of calabashes, or gourds, with pokerwork—designs created by burning the surface with a heated metal point—was a long-standing tradition among the Kongo peoples of the Atlantic coast. As with the ivory tusks on view nearby, engraving calabashes was a local tradition modified for the tourist market. By the 1950s, Benoît Madya was recognized as the most talented calabash carver of the time. Here, Madya depicted two drummers beating a long drum, a typical scene from the daily life of his village, Kitombe. Madya’s images focus particularly on dress, ornament, and material culture; he is also known for his engravings of classical mythological scenes drawn from European sources, Kongo proverbs, and animals, which he studied closely at the zoological gardens in Léopoldville.
Kitombe, Democratic Republic of the Congo
On view
20th century
Containers - Other

Frans Heymans, Antwerp, Belgium; Auction house Zemanek-Münster, Wurzburg, Germany, Tribal Arts Auction, November 16, 2019; Yale University Art Gallery, New Haven, Conn.


Andre Scohy, Etapes Au Soleil (Brussels: Aux Editions Du Chat Qui Peche, 1952), 124–27, ill.

Marc L. Felix, Kongo Kingdom Art: From Ritual to Cutting Edge, exh. cat. (Hong Kong: Service Printing Co Ltd, 2003), 311, no. 9, 15, fig. 9, 25b.

Note: This electronic record was created from historic documentation that does not necessarily reflect the Yale University Art Gallery’s complete or current knowledge about the object. Review and updating of such records is ongoing.