African Art

Wall Panel from Boys’ Initiation House

1920s–1930s

Wood, pigment, and rattan

33 7/16 x 28 9/16 x 7 x 24 in. (85 x 72.5 x 17.78 x 60.96 cm)
Charles B. Benenson, B.A. 1933, Collection
2006.51.561
Wall panels with painted human and animal figures carved in high relief adorned the interior walls of the three-sided roofed structures the Nkanu call kikaku. Located at a crossroads outside the initiation enclosure, kikaku warned the uninitiated not to continue any farther. Europeans are a recurrent motif on these wall panels. The central figure here, a white colonial administrator, is flanked by two women with ornate body decoration, worn for festive occasions. The women’s gestures could indicate that they are pregnant, and their red-colored skin implies maturity. The snake symbolizes the male organ. Taken together, the images could be a commentary on promiscuity and the sexual misconduct of the colonialist. Panel scenes usually refer to real incidents and are meant to amuse the audience.
Culture: 
Nkanu
Period: 
20th century
Classification: 
Sculpture
Geography: 
Made in Central Africa, Democratic Republic of the Congo
Status: 
On view
Provenance: 

Former Collection: the small missionary museum in Mpese (Lower-Congo) as per Annemieke Van Damme, in Yale-van-Rijn Archives of African Art [but no documentation of this in file]
LM Associates African Art, Arlington Virgina advertised the panel in African Arts in February 1980.
Tribal Arts Gallery (Albert F. Gordon), New York: unknown date - Dec. 18, 1981
Charles B. Benenson Collection, donated to Yale University Art Gallery in 2004

Bibliography: 

LM Associates advertisement,” African Arts 10, no.2 (1980): 20, ill.

“Acquisitions, July 1, 2005–June 30, 2006,” Yale University Art Gallery Bulletin (2006): 222, 227, 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): 50–51, fig. 28.

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, 309, fig. 23.

Z. S. Strother, Humor and Violence (Bloomington, Ind.: Indiana University Press, 2016), 200–202, fig. 6.2.

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.