Public Art

By Mary Nooter Roberts
University of California, Los Angeles

Democratic Republic of the Congo; Luba artist

Ceremonial spear

Wood, iron, cloth

H. 156.2 cm (61")

University of Iowa Stanley Museum of Art, The Stanley Collection, X1986.546


Beyond the ceremonial functions of royal emblems, Luba insignia were used in interregional exchange and gift giving for political purposes. Kings and chiefs sometimes used art as an emissary of diplomacy and as an instrument of persuasion. Numerous long-distance alliances were cemented through the strategic dissemination of carved insignia from Luba courts into outlying chieftaincies. Art also was used to settle debts, to signal the end of hostilities, and in payment for favors. Insignia were so potent that the simple possession of an emblem was proof of legitimacy, regardless of the means of acquisition. The mere planting of a royal spear into the ground by a king or his emissary was an act of subordination and signified that kingship had come to that region. Some insignia, such as carved staffs, were used as payment for access to river crossings, which were critical boundary markers of political expansion.