Spirit Embodiments

By Barbara Thompson
Friends of Usambara Society, Tanzania (formerly Stanford University; University of Iowa)

Democratic Republic of the Congo; Songye artist

Power figure

Wood, horn, tack

H. 37.8 cm (14 7/8") 

University of Iowa Stanley Museum of Art, The Stanley Collection of African Art, X1986.190

Many power objects have found their way from Africa into American and European art collections. Some of these objects, such as this Songye nkishi, have been stripped of their medicinal and symbolic elements. While some figures were stripped by their African owners as part of the deactivation process, others were purposefully "freed" from the surface accumulations by Western art dealers or collectors. Because of the aesthetic preferences of many Western collectors, African art objects are often given renewed value, meaning, and importance based on the Western appreciation for sculptural form, beauty, and power. Although the object is then devoid of its original spiritual charge and its intended effectiveness, the awesome presence of the object continues to convey its power in a totally new and transformed setting.