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Fowler Museum at UCLA

Yombe "Power Figure"

Yombe "Power Figure"

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From: Fowler Museum at UCLA
Limited Edition: 11
Exhibition: Intersections: World Art/Local Lives
Material: Printed 2-ply vinyl
Dimensions: 35" x 96" (88cm x 243cm)

Hanging Hardware Included


The cloudy whitened eyes on an 18th-century Congolese sculpture lend the piece an other-worldy aspect. This is perhaps appropriate, as the wood carving is known as a "power figure". An artist sculpts such a figure, and then supernatural power is bestowed upon it by a ritual specialist who attaches a small vessel containing magical properties. The forces these figures embody are believed capable of combating witches, evil-doers, and others seeking to upset social harmony. 11 banners are available featuring this mesmerizing image from the Fowler Museum at UCLA.


The entry of the Portuguese into the Zaire estuary in the 15th century eventually led to the decline of a developed system of Yombe governance. What remained was a cultural dynamic that produced this 18th-19th century nkisi nkonde (power figure) from the Democratic Republic of Congo. Power figures embodied specific spiritual attributes, thereby empowering those who possessed the figures. The Yombe people who created this figure believed that it had medicinal powers capable of protecting, curing, and healing. Other power figures were intended to root out evil-doers and deter those who might foment social discord. They also played a role in resolving disputes whereby parties would drive nails into the figure signifying an oath to the terms of the agreement.

This object was featured in the Fowler Museum''s recent exhibition Intersections: World Arts, Local Lives. The wood figure is comprised of carefully selected materials connecting the Yombe to the spiritual world. It is adorned with bright cloth, cordage, colorful beads, and cowrie shells. Cowrie shells were typically used to encapsulate ancestral spirits and were believed to bestow particularly powerful forces. The figure’s face is distinguished with large, well-defined, detailed eyes. The ears and nose are prominent but remain realistically rendered. The bead and cloth necklace is particularly ornate, and its elements were carefully selected to imbue specific spiritual powers.

Below the image of the power figure, white text reads '"Fowler Museum at UCLA'". The other side of this banner is a deep red with white text that reads “Intersections/World Art/Local Lives” and in small black print ”opens 9/30/06”.


These banners were displayed around Los Angeles, California to promote the exhibition Intersections: World Art/Local Lives at the Fowler Museum at UCLA. The ongoing exhibition features works from the Fowler’s permanent collection.

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