African Art

Power Figure (Nkisi Nkondi)

18th–19th century

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

18 x 8 x 3 1/2 in. (45.72 x 20.32 x 8.89 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
Culture: 
Kongo
Classification: 
Sculpture
Status: 
On view
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, 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.

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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