SPECIAL ADVISORY: To safeguard against the spread of COVID-19, the Yale University Art Gallery will remain closed until further notice. Learn More

African Art
PrevNext1 of 15
Photo credit: Yale University Art Gallery
PrevNext2 of 15
Photo credit: Yale University Art Gallery
PrevNext3 of 15
Photo credit: Yale University Art Gallery
PrevNext4 of 15
Photo credit: Yale University Art Gallery
PrevNext5 of 15
Photo credit: Yale University Art Gallery
PrevNext6 of 15
Photo credit: Yale University Art Gallery
PrevNext7 of 15
Photo credit: Yale University Art Gallery
PrevNext8 of 15
Photo credit: Yale University Art Gallery
PrevNext9 of 15
Photo credit: Yale University Art Gallery
PrevNext10 of 15
Photo credit: Yale University Art Gallery
PrevNext11 of 15
Photo credit: Yale University Art Gallery
PrevNext12 of 15
Photo credit: Yale University Art Gallery
PrevNext13 of 15
Photo credit: Yale University Art Gallery
PrevNext14 of 15
Photo credit: Yale University Art Gallery
PrevNext15 of 15
Photo credit: Yale University Art Gallery

Power Figure (Nkisi N’kondi)

19th–early 20th century

Wood, iron, cloth, mirror, leopard tooth, fiber, and porcelain

18 × 8 × 3 1/2 in. (45.7 × 20.3 × 8.9 cm)
Charles B. Benenson, B.A. 1933, Collection
2006.51.246
A nkisi nkondi is a specific type of power figure in which the spirit was activated by hammering a nail into the figure. At the request of a victim of theft, for instance, a nail would be driven into the wooden figure, and the nkisi-nkondi would punish the thief. A nkisi-nkondi also worked as a deterrent. Important agreements could be sealed in front of the figure, which would then punish all future violators. The mirror of the abdominal box and the whites of these figures’ eyes refer to the ability of the ritual specialist to pass between the worlds of the living and the dead through the watery intermediary divide.
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
Status: 
Not on view
Culture: 
Kongo
Period: 
19th–early 20th century
Classification: 
Sculpture
Provenance: 

Maurice Bonnefoy, New York and Paris, to 1972. Charles B. Benenson Collection, donated to Yale University Art Gallery in 2004

Bibliography: 

Sarah Adams, Call and Response: Journeys of African Art, exh. cat. (New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Art Gallery, 2000), 4, fig. 4.

Frederick John Lamp, “Charles Benenson and His Legacy of African Art to Yale,” Yale University Art Gallery Bulletin (2004): 39, ill.

Richard Barnes, “Objects of Desire,” Yale Alumni Magazine (September/October 2004): 35, ill.

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

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), 55, 192, fig. 8.

James Green, “Investigating the Cloth on a Kongo Power Figure,” Yale University Art Gallery Bulletin (2019): 30–39, fig. 1–5.

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.