Process Art

By Mary Nooter Roberts
University of California, Los Angeles

Democratic Republic of the CongoHoloholo artist

Leadership staff

Wood, metal, cloth

H. 123.1 cm (48 1/2")

University of Iowa Stanley Museum of Art, The Stanley Collection of African Art, X1986.224

Some art forms may be statement and process arts at the same time. A Holoholo staff, for example, serves in the hand as an emblem of authority, indicating position and status, and validating a chief’s claim to power. Staffs are displayed at all ceremonies of state, accompany rulers on journeys, and are among the most important emblems of investiture. But staffs also serve as receptacles and activators of sacred power. Sanctified by ritual specialists, fortified with metal and medicine, they take on supernatural qualities and are said to have healing power. Staffs dating to the period of kingship continue to shift in purpose and meaning as people adapt to their changing circumstances. Staffs that once symbolized political relationships may now be interpreted as including tenets of Christianity and other contemporary realities, but they still serve in everyday problem solving as history is made.

Luba chief with lukasa and staff, Katanga Province, Democratic Republic of the Congo, 1989. Photo by Mary Nooter Roberts.