Power figure (nkisi nkondi)

African, Kongo peoples, Democratic Republic of the Congo
19th–20th century
Artist Unidentified

Place of Origin: Democratic Republic of the Congo


61 x 30.5 x 20.3 cm (24 x 12 x 8 in.)

Accession Number


Medium or Technique

Wood, glass, iron nails, pigment, sacred material

On View

Richard B. Carter Gallery (Gallery 171)


Africa and Oceania, Contemporary Art



This sculpture, called nkisi nkonde, functioned as a hunter-healer of conflicts. The figure was commissioned, owned, and activated by the nganga specialist, who was trained and tested as a counselor or mediator skilled in treating afflictions of the body and spirit. Nails or blades were hammered into the work to seal a vow or to awaken its power to solve a problem or dispute. Whitened with pigment and leaning subtly forward, the figure has an open mouth suggesting the uttering of judgments, and mirrors in the abdomen and eyes to deflect danger.


About 1958, acquired from his grandfather by Dr. A. Reymond, Morges, Switzerland; 1960, sold by Dr. Reymond to Hans Hess (dealer), Basel. Private collection, Switzerland. 1978, acquired by Pace Primitive and Ancient Art, New York and sold to a private collector, New York. 1987, sold by Pace Primitive and Ancient Art to William and Bertha Teel, Marblehead, MA; 1991, year-end gift of William and Bertha Teel to the MFA. (Accession Date: January 22, 1992)

NOTE: Provenance information taken from a memorandum provided by Pace Primitive and Ancient Art (n.d.).

Credit Line

Gift of William E. and Bertha L. Teel