Process Art

By Mary Nooter Roberts
University of California, Los Angeles

Democratic Republic of the CongoYombe artist

Nkondi figure

Wood, nails, screws, cowries, pigment, other materials

H. 116.8 cm (46")

Detroit Institute of Arts, Founders Society Purchase, Eleanor Clay Ford Fund for African Art 76.9

If statement arts function to affirm existing systems of social organization, then “process arts” are made to reflect social, political, and other kinds of change. Process arts serve as vehicles of transformation, to help their users conceptualize a situation and to assist with problem solving (Roberts 1985). An example of process art is this powerful Yombe figure once kept by an entire community for legal proceedings. Blades and nails were driven into the surface of the figure to activate powerful ingredients concealed in cavities within the head and torso and also to seal pacts and bind agreements. Oaths were sworn, and trials were held before this figure, which served as chief, doctor, priest, and judge all at once. The figure was also consulted during times of misfortune. Due to the dynamic nature of its use, such figures changed shape and form over time, reflecting dynamic participation in the everyday affairs of their owner and users.