By Christopher D. Roy
University of Iowa
Political art identifies those who hold power, validates their right to inherit kingship or their authority as representatives of the family or community, and communicates the rules for moral behavior that must be obeyed by members of the community. Art in Africa is used to reflect the power of kings, to record their ancestry, to validate their rule and to demonstrate their wealth. In Africa as elsewhere the art of kings includes portraits of great rulers, complete with the items of dress that mark them as rulers and whose very possession often establishes the right to rule. The portrait of the Kuba Nyim or King Shamba Bolongongo shows him seated on his low throne wearing the distinctive crown with a projecting visor. He holds the sword of state in his left hand. In centralized political systems where the king is surrounded by a bureaucracy of title holders, ministers, secretaries and nobility, art serves to identify with precision and clarity the rank of each individual.