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19th and 20th Century African Art: Power Figure


Power figure (Nkisi n' kondi). Kongo Peoples (Democratic Republic of the Congo). c late 19th Century C.E. Wood and metal.


-From Kongo/Congo

-Each figures is Activated differently; Every time the owner inserts a blade or nail- you are prodding the spirit to do the work.

-Specific chants, rubbing the images, or applying special powders also were involved. 

-Roles of power figures varied from curing minor ailments to stimulating crop growth, punishing thieves and weakening enemies. 


-More naturalistic in comparison with other sculptures of African peoples; face is still simplified – magnified head for emphasis.

-Depicts a man penetrated with many nails and blades.

-Each figure has its specific role and  wears a particular medicine at its stomach; this one has a large cowrie shell ( Represents Goddess protection which is very powerful and connected with the strength of the ocean).

Map Image


Works Cited/ Resources

Sample Resource 1 in MLA format

Sample Resource 2 in MLA format

Sample Resource 3 in MLA format 

(Gardner and Kahn Academy must be used, any additional resources that you find useful can be added here also)


-Nearly 4 feet tall (wood and metal). Exceptionally large for power figure sculpture. Sculpture contains variety of contrasting textures (smoothness of the figure's skin vs. jagged protrusions of  forms towards it's mid-section). 


-Created by trained priests using precise ritual formulas, embodied spirits believed to heal and give life, or sometimes inflict harm, disease, or even death.

-both ‘contain’ and ‘release’ spiritual forces which can have both positive and negative consequences on the community.

-Due to the size of this figure, it had exceptional ascribed powers and aided entire communities. 


nkisi n’kondi- Kongo Power Figures