Renee Stout ( American, 1950 )
In this dramatic work, Renée Stout has developed an ambitious visual idea, i.e., the interpretation of self as a figure of empowerment. Stout boldly presents herself as a life-sized nkisi figure enshrouded in those accoutrements of power and magic which are characteristic of this Central African sculpture. Nkisi (plural minkisi) is the name given to a traditional fetish figure made by the Yombe of Zaire. The glass or mirror which covers material in the abdomen signifies the possibility of seeing beyond visible objects. (For example, see the standing female power figure in the Dallas Museum of Art's collection [1969.S.31].)
In a process which took several months, the artist cast her own body in plaster and then painted the cast with several layers of black paint. A mesh collar holds medicine bags while a Niger stamp, dried flowers, and a picture of a young black girl are placed in the glass-covered "medicine pouch" of the torso. Cowrie shells define the eyes of the figure, braided extensions adorn her head, and a pelt of monkey hair forms a dramatic headdress.
Stout's accuracy in conveying the proper size, texture, and shape of the traditional accoutrements indicates her sensitivity to original form, and thus her understanding of the spiritual importance of these assembled materials. In Fetish #2, Stout addresses directly her sense of power and possibility. The slightly upturned gaze of the figure yields an unmistakable air of conviction. In her brilliant execution of idea, Stout creates a sculptural tour de force.
- Alvia J. Wardlaw, "Renée Stout, Fetish #2__," in Black Art, Ancestral Legacy: the African impulse in African-American art, ed. Robert Rozelle, Alvia Wardlaw, and Maureen A. McKenna (Dallas, TX: Dallas Museum of Art, 1989), 231.
- Smithsonian American Art Museum
Learn more about Stout and her work.