Standing figure

Bembe (also Beembe)
19th–20th century
more object details

General Description

Standing firm with its hands at either side of its belly, this small figure is adorned with scarification patterns: a diamond on the forehead and bands of geometric designs across the shoulders forming an inverted Y at the navel. The recessed head is topped with a resinous stopper to seal the potent materials, or "medicine," underneath. It is a generalized portrait of a Bwende ancestor and served as a vessel for his or her spirit. It was probably made for an individual or clan leader. The Bwende made a variety of sculptures for use in funerary rituals and ancestor worship. This type of sculpture accessed ancestral power through the "charge" inserted in its head. The activated figure served as the owner's protector and healer.

The Bwende are reputed to be descended from the ancient kingdom of Kongo. Their art can be distinguished from Kongo art in the modeling of the head and in the facial expression, posture, and the accoutrements the figure holds. Bwende art, however, shows congruencies with Kongo examples, from the use of medicine-filled resin packs to the naturalism of renderings of the human body. As seen in this figure, dense scarifications are part of their shared visual themes.

Adapted from

  • Roslyn A. Walker, Label text, Arts of Africa, 2015.

  • Ramona Austin, "Standing male ancestor figure (mukuya)," in Dallas Museum of Art: A Guide to the Collection, ed. Suzanne Kotz (Dallas, TX: Dallas Museum of Art, 1997), 157.