African Art
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Ancestral Shrine Figure

19th–early 20th century

Wood, glass, black paint, and white kaolin

21 7/8 x 10 1/16 x 10 1/16 in. (55.5 x 25.5 x 25.5 cm)
Charles B. Benenson, B.A. 1933, Collection
2006.51.61
The sweeping coiffure worn by this kneeling female figure signals that she is a kind of medium trained to receive the spiritual power of healing. It also underscores her high social rank. Indicative of her role as a healer, her right hand is placed on a black vessel possibly containing powerful medicinal substances. A miniature male figure or child sits on her left foot, crossing his arms in a gesture of grief. The woman’s body is covered with white chalk (kaolin); the color white refers to the dead, suggesting that her healing power is drawn from her forebears. The color also references purity and moral correctness, both important Yombe values.
Geography: 
Made in Central Africa, Democratic Republic of the Congo
Made in Central Africa, Republic of the Congo
Made in Central Africa, Cabinda
Made in Central Africa, Angola
Culture: 
Yombe
Classification: 
Sculpture
Status: 
On view
Bibliography: 

Susan Vogel and Jerry L. Thompson, Closeup: Lessons in the Art of Seeing African Sculpture from an American Collection and the Horstmann Collection, exh. cat. (New York: The Center for African Art, 1990), 168-169, fig. 100.

Sarah Adams, Call and Response: Journeys of African Art, exh. cat. (New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Art Gallery, 2000), 2, fig. 3.

Robert Farris Thompson, “Icons for the Brave and Generous: Kongo Art at Yale,” Yale University Art Gallery Bulletin (2005): 80–81, 86, fig. 9.

“Acquisitions, July 1, 2005–June 30, 2006,” Yale University Art Gallery Bulletin (2006): 222.

Holland Cotter, “At Yale, Renovation Puts African Art in Spotlight,” New York Times (January 10, 2007), E1, ill.

Frederick John Lamp, “Hot Space, Cool Space: The Reinstallation of the African Art Collection in the Louis Kahn Building at Yale University,” African Arts 40 (Summer 2007): 44–45, fig. 15.

Frederick John Lamp, Accumulating Histories: African Art from the Charles B. Benenson Collection at the Yale University Art Gallery (New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Art Gallery, 2012), 79, 108, fig. 23.

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.

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