community power figure

Songye people

Currently on View in W302.p3.riser
Image Licensing

This figure belongs to a widespread Central African tradition of maintaining power figures that derive their authority from the insertion and application of spiritually charged substances. The identity of these substances is secret to the ritual specialist who applies them and varies significantly. Some of the many documented substances include certain river clay, some herbs, ashes of burnt trees from a battleground and the flesh of someone who has committed suicide.

These sacred substances are found at the top of the head, the mouth, the ears, the abdomenand the anus. The accompanying photographsof an x-ray reveals some of the insertions and applications of sacred substances. Substances in the head, abdomen and

Large Songye power figures like this example belonged to the entire community, while small power figures were owned by individuals. This figure would have been brought out to a community gathering to deal with occasional communal concerns such as crop failure, widespread illness, or a territorial dispute with a neighboring village. The figure with its spiritual charge was considered a protective entity.

Carlo Monzino Collection, by at least 1986.{1} Private European collection; sale at (Sotheby’s, New York) in 2001;{2} Jacques Mallet Collection, New York; {3} private sale at (Sotheby’s, New York) in 2005; purchased by the Indianapolis Museum of Art in 2005 (2005.21).

{1}See Susan Mullin Vogel, African Aesthetics: The Carlo Monzoni Collection, New York, 1986, p. 129 (ill.).
{2}Sotheby’s, New York, Arts of Africa, Oceania and the Americas, 19 May 2001, lot no. 198 (ill.).
{3}See Anne Dräger, ed., The Jacques Mallet Collection, Bielefeld, 2005, pp. 146-7 (ill.).

Object Information

Songye people
creation date
early 20th century
wood, cloth, feathers, fur, reptile skin, metals, pigment
H: 33 in.
accession number
credit line
The Ballard Fund, Lucille Stewart Endowed Art Fund, E. Hardey Adriance Fine Arts Acquisition Fund in memory of Marguerite Hardey Adriance, Roger G. Wolcott Fund and Mary V. Black Art Endowment Fund
No Known Rights Holder
African Art

You May Also Like