Wood, cotton, shell, fibre, glass, tooth
Leeds Museums and Galleries care for over 3000 objects from sub-Saharan Africa, including numerous sculptures.
Kongo wooden sculptures often show a high degree of naturalism when compared with sculpture from other parts of Africa made in the early 20th century. The Kongo people believed that illness was caused by bad spirits, and the jealousy of the living. Power figures were used to disperse these elements and also to resolve disputes.
They are produced under the auspices of a ritual healer, who endows the sculpture with magical powers. When ‘activated’ the statue can act as a protector against illness. Additional elements such as shells, mirrors and nails enhance this. A healer would look in the mirror to find the image of the spirit or person who had caused the patient’s illness.
The figure’s raised right hand probably held a knife or model spear, emphasising their power and authority.
Transfer from University of Leeds, Faculty of Education, Social Sciences and Law, Department of Sociology and Social Policy.