Power Figure (Nkishi) with Bingala (Copper Plates)
Unidentified Songye (Eki or Kalebwe subgroup) artist, late 19th-early 20th century
East Kasai Province, Democratic Republic of the Congo
Wood, copper, metal, fiber, animal hide, reedbuck or sassaby horns, beads, organic materials
31 x 8 x 18 inches (78.7 x 20.3 x 45.7 cm)
The Allan Stone Collection

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Male Power Figure (Nkishi) with Mele (Metal Bell)
Master of the Bulbous Copper Eyes
Songye (Kalebwe subgroup) artist, late 19th-early 20th century
Tshofa region, East Kasai Province, Democratic Republic of the Congo
Wood, copper, metal, guinea hen and other feathers, beads, horn, fiber, snake skin, organic materials
36 1/2 x 16 x 9 inches (92.7 x 40.6 x 22.9 cm)
The Allan Stone Collection

Power Incarnate: Allan Stone’s Collection of Sculpture from the Congo

May 14, 2011 - September 4, 2011

Power Incarnate: Allan Stone’s Collection of Sculpture from the Congo features works drawn from the Estate of Allan Stone, the noted art dealer, gallery owner, and collector who died in 2006 at the age of 74. Perhaps best known for his expertise in Abstract Expressionism, Mr. Stone’s collection of African art is an extraordinary assemblage in its own right, a decidedly personal collection and a monument to a particular artistic vision. Guest curator for the exhibition is Kevin D. Dumouchelle, Assistant Curator for the Arts of Africa and the Pacific Islands at the Brooklyn Museum. The exhibition is supported by a Committee of Honor led by Salli Garrick and Marcia Powers and by the Charles M. and Deborah G. Royce Exhibition Fund.

Click here for programs related to the exhibition.

The prevailing region represented in the exhibition is the Congo, and a particular type, the power figure, are the largest group among these sculptures.  Found in the Kongo and Songye cultures, both of which historically produced figures intended to protect their communities, these power figures, often called nkisi or nkishi, along with other conceptually related sculptures from the Congo basin are the focus of the exhibition. The works belong to a series of highly complex, charged and subtle political and cosmological institutions, broadly dating from the early twentieth century. Small, differentiated social segments (blacksmith/carvers and diviners, or ngangas) that specialized in intervening in ‘wilderness’ on behalf of ‘civilization’ created and used these sculptures to harness spiritual forces to aid the community. To that end, these works are vehicles for humanity’s control of nature, not the reverse. The sculptures are not tools or representations of spiritual forces, associated with the ancestral realm but through the informed, selective application of additional materials to their surfaces, layered over time, these sculptures become power incarnate.

Power sculpture from the Congo has a longstanding, cross-cultural formal appeal, which led to its proliferation in early twentieth-century Western collections. At that early moment, collectors appreciated African sculpture narrowly as formal solutions to issues in modernist figural sculpture, and often removed the accumulated layers of power materials, which they regarded as impediments to aesthetic appreciation. Western audiences now appreciate that the varied surfaces of these works not only offer traces of the history of their use, but the accumulated evidence of their original intention as vessels for animating spirits. Power sculptures serve as indices not only of these spirits, but also of the agency of their original artists and practitioners. The dense layers of applied materials create what the Kongo referred to as ngitukulu, or “astonishment.”  As vessels of power, these sculptures continue to act on us toda

“These artworks maintain a close visual and intellectual relationship to twentieth-century art, from the wild strokes of Willem de Kooning and Franz Kline to the assemblages of Joseph Cornell, on which Allan Stone made his name,” said Kevin Dumouchelle, the exhibition’s guest curator. “Indeed, the Stone collection’s figures from the Congo share a visual and intellectual relationship with the assemblage sculpture that Stone championed. While Western sculpture took its force from its visual or conceptual impact, the Congolese works add a key ingredient - active power itself.”

For more images from the exhibition Power Incarnate: Allan Stone’s Collection of Sculpture from the Congo, click here.

Link here to a Greenwich Citizen interview with Stone’s daughter Jessie.  

Click here for The Museum’s Power Incarnate press release.