A Songye, Nkishi-Sculpture

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A Songye, Nkishi-Sculpture, probably Kalebwe region, based on a thick circulat base, the waist encirceled by a beated belt, partly covered with animal skins and with an attachment in shape of a raffia loincloth, in the center of the legs a tube-shaped wooden object underlining the female character of the figure, the protruding abdomen with an oxidised brass sheet, probaly the protection for ritual medicine, the muscular arms varved close to the body, thev stylized hands touching the abdomen, a thick open, the neck encircled by woven fiber and supporting the large, architectural head with an open mouth in oval form, the face decorated with several brass nails and blackened oxidised metal sheets, fine aged patina, signs of age and ritual use.

4.000 – 4.800,- Euro

Height: 69 cm
Weight: 6,4 kg

Songye Sculpture

photo W.F.P. Burton, Kalebwe region.

During the creation of its nkishi, members of a community are engaged in the process and attentively follow it as it unfolds. As the primary author, the nganga oversees its execution and directs their participation. The ancestors are invoked over the course of a procession from the village to the site of the tree from which the sculpture will be carved. Dances and songs of tribute pay homage to the ancestors while the tree is cut down. Once the carving is completed, the most important phase of execution occurs at night as the nganga visually and metaphysically transforms the figure by inserting its crucial bishimba within cavities in the head and abdomen and attaching external paraphernalia. To attract the ancestors’ attention to the work, all fires are extinguished except for one near the
figure, and sacrificial offerings are made.

Ultimately, the composition of an nkishi not only incorporates intimate particulate matter belonging to its patrons but has the outward appearance of an idealized portrait of a leader. The physiognomy and regalia of a community nkishi emphasize the influential character of its subject, conveying a degree of physical strength and social rank commensurate with the spiritual power it commands.

External features include additions of chiefly regalia, such as the strands of white and blue beads wrapped around the neck and the animal hide and raffia skirt below the waist. Pelts of various kinds of animals that project strength, dominance, and authority may be selected, and their names (or those of chiefs) are appropriate choices for the titles assigned to such works. Though relatively small, this especially refined sculpture seems to project a monumental stature, accentuated by the pedestal-like base that is an integral part of its design. The broad, rounded forehead suggests omniscience. The head narrows toward the base of the chin, which extends into a long rectangular beard, an attribute of leadership. Large, almond-shaped eyes, made more prominent by raised, arched eyebrows, suggest a contemplative and inward-looking expression. The finely articulated facial features are accentuated with copper bands, punctuated by metal tacks, extending vertically from the forehead to the tip of the nose and diagonally across each cheek. This metal appliqué refers to forces such as lightning, which the nkishi can counteract and redirect to benefit its constituents. Diminutive hands rest on either side of the pronounced abdomen, a sign of fertility and the cyclical nature of life, which relates a community’s ancestors to its unborn members.

The efficacy of an individual nkishi is regarded as finite, and therefore it must eventually be replaced. When this happens, however, it continues to be remembered for specific feats attributed to it and becomes a quintessential point of reference for entire chapters of a community’s history.

Source: Met-Museum

Additional information

Weight 6.4 kg