African Art

Community Power Figure (Nkishi)

19th century

Wood, leather, brass, feathers, animal fur, lizard skin, animal claws, glass beads, cotton cloth, fiber, and encrustation

49 × 14 3/8 × 14 3/8 in. (124.5 × 36.5 × 36.5 cm)
Charles B. Benenson, B.A. 1933, Collection
Power figures could range in size from small and portable to over three feet in height. The size of the nkishi depended on whether it served the needs of an individual, a household, or an entire village. Parts of animals attached to the figure–such as the claws and bones of a leopard or lion, earth from the tracks of an elephant, the skin of a snake, or the feathers of a hawk–would endow the nkishi with the physical power of these animals.
Democratic Republic of the Congo
On view
19th century

Boris Kegel-Konietzko, Hamburg, collected in Cabinda, 1959. Pace Gallery, New York, to Apr. 20, 1977. Charles B. Benenson Collection, Greenwich, Conn, 1977–2004; Yale University Art Gallery, New Haven, Conn.


“Acquisitions, July 1, 2005–June 30, 2006,” Yale University Art Gallery Bulletin (2006): 222, 224, ill.

Richard Barnes, “Objects of Desire,” Yale Alumni Magazine (September/October 2004): 34, 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): 46–47, fig. 20.

Frederick John Lamp, Amanda Maples, and Laura M. Smalligan, Accumulating Histories: African Art from the Charles B. Benenson Collection at the Yale University Art Gallery (New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Art Gallery, 2012), 71,79, 149, fig. 14, 23.

Mary (Polly) Nooter Roberts, “Tradition is Always Now,” African Arts 45, no.1 (2012): 5, fig. 6.

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.