Religion

By Christopher D. Roy
University of Iowa

Democratic Republic of the CongoKongo peoples

Nkisi (power figure)

Wood, feathers, glass, metal, animal teeth, shell, cloth

H. 29.2 cm (11.5")

The University of Iowa Museum of Art, The Stanley Collection, X1986.508

Given the existence of spirits that can influence their lives, the problem arises of how to contact these invisible beings, how to communicate with them and control their power.  In many cases the answer is art, for through art the invisible is made visible, and the spirits of the wilderness can be brought into the community where food and drink can be offered, songs of praise can be sung and the performance of masks can give identity and personality to the otherwise abstract, intangible spirits of nature.  People seek to control the power these spirits hold over their lives.  The means used to control this supernatural power is magic.  Power can be expressed through art, and art is an effective tool of magic. This power figure, called nkisi from the Kongo people in Democratic Republic of the Congo embodies spiritual force that has been placed in a container on the abdomen.  Metaphors or symbols of power include the leopard's fang necklace and the feathered crown.