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Nkisi Nkonde Needs You!

Posted on by Minneapolis Institute of Arts

Kongo
Nkisi Nkonde, late 19th century
Wood, natural fibers, nails
The Christina N. and Swan J. Turnblad Memorial Fund, 71.3

This label needs YOU!

What do you want to know about this object? Here’s your chance to ask. The curator will use your questions to revise this object label. Leave your responses in the Comments section below. Check back here after July 1 to see the new label shaped by your input.

What’s this all about?

This is one of three objects from the African galleries whose labels need your feedback. Next time you’re at the museum, be sure to stop by the “This label needs YOU!” podium in Gallery 250 to leave input for the Equestrian Figure as well.

 

Current Label

The Kongo people and their neighbors call this type of figure nkisi nkondi, which translates as “medicine / night hunter.” After a sculptor carved the figure, a ritual specialist empowered it by hiding substances – “medicine” – in its head and collar and on its abdomen. Figures like this one were used to connect living individuals and communities with the spirit world for purposes of divination (gaining knowledge of current or future events), healing, and protection. An nkisi nkondi enforced legal settlements and discouraged wrongdoers. Regarded as a powerful spiritual being that would “hunt down” violators of agreements, the figure once carried a spear or knife in its raised arm.

5 Responses to Nkisi Nkonde Needs You!

Katie says: May 11, 2012 at 5:46 pm

Why is it covered in nails?

ps current label is too long

    debbie lyon says: May 18, 2012 at 1:37 pm

    First, my favorite exhibit is the African one. I am amazed by the pieces and the controversy surrounding many of these. As for the label, I would much prefer bullet points than a paragraph..it all runs together. Short sentence bullet points would work for me. Everything in the label as written is very important for me to know about this piece. Also, was the figure moved from place to place as required? I think I remember from Art History that it was. A brief description of where this would typically be found would also be of great interest to me.

Jen Dolen says: May 21, 2012 at 10:43 am

First, great information in current label – packed with details. I had to read it a few times to get everything.

Like Katie, I am curious about the nails. Information about the overall materials would be interesting. Do we know why the mouth is open, or are there any anecdotes about the eyes (different, both very pale… does this regard the divination/searching properties?) or why the figure stands on two brick-like pedestals.

So, what, if any, significance is attached to the shape and/or design or details of the figure (is it typically consistent or is each one different… do they “earn” nails or other accessories, for example)?



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