Standing figure of a religious

Kongo peoples
late 19th century–c. 1930
more object details

General Description

This figure probably dates from the late 19th century to the early decades of the 20th century, a period of unprecedented missionary activity in Africa with most Christian denominations participating. After the Atlantic slave trade ended and legitimate trade replaced it in the 19th century, European missionary work was resumed in the context of colonization. Under the new conditions Western education and culture were keys to success. This does not mean the traditional way of life was abandoned. Instead, in many cultures, Christ was added to the traditional pantheon. Traditional African artists found new patronage in the Christian church for which they created crucifixes and sculptures representing priests and saints, and many artists continued to work in the traditional style of their ethnic group.

This figure, posed in a prayerful attitude, may depict a monk or a nun wearing a pith helmet or a veil. Because both men and women wore habits that concealed their bodies from head to toe, gender identification is difficult. The observant artist carefully depicted the knotted leather or fiber belt with ends that terminate in a cross, the folds of the garment, and the exposed shoes.

Adapted from

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

  • Roslyn A. Walker, DMA unpublished material, 2008.

  • Roslyn A. Walker, The Arts of Africa at the Dallas Museum of Art (New Haven and London: Yale University Press, 2009), 266.