Power Figure (Nkisi N'kondi)

19th–early 20th century

African Art

On view, 1st floor, African Art

This sculpture came into being through a gradual process that involved several specialists in the Kongo community. First, a sculptor constructed the figure as an empty receptacle. A second specialist, known as the nganga, then “empowered” the vessel by inserting bilongo (medicines composed of a secret combination of animal, plant, and mineral substances) into key locations to create the power figure, or nkisi. A nkisi with its body packed full of hardware (known as a nkisi nkondi) was employed in ceremonies conducted by the nganga for the benefit of society, maintaining law and order by punishing those who disturbed the life of the community. Each piece of metal served as a permanent, material record of an event as well as a deterrent to future crimes.


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


18 × 8 × 3 1/2 in. (45.7 × 20.3 × 8.9 cm)

Credit Line

Charles B. Benenson, B.A. 1933, Collection

Accession Number



19th–early 20th century


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 records is ongoing.



With Maurice Bonnefoy (1920–1999, dealer, D’Arcy Galleries), New York and Garennes-Sure-Eure, by 1972; Charles B. Benenson (1913–2004), Greenwich, Conn., by 2004; given to the Yale University Art Gallery, New Haven, Conn., 2004

Note 1: D’Arcy Galleries operated from about February 1957 to June 1968, in New York; however, Bonnefoy continued to trade objects and exhibit from his personal collection of non-Western art through the 1980s.

  • James Green, "Investigating the Cloth on a Kongo Power Figure," Yale University Art Gallery Bulletin (2019), 30–39, fig. 1–5
  • 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
  • "Acquisitions, July 1, 2005–June 30, 2006," in "Photography at Yale," special issue, Yale University Art Gallery Bulletin (2006), 222
  • Richard Barnes, "Objects of Desire," Yale Alumni Magazine (September/October 2004), 35, ill
  • Frederick John Lamp, "Charles Benenson and His Legacy of African Art to Yale," in "Recent Acquisitions 2001–2003," special issue, Yale University Art Gallery Bulletin (2004), 39, ill
Object copyright
Additional information

Object/Work type

figures (representations)

Technical metadata and APIs


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