Nail Figure

Kongo, African
On View

in

African: Channeling Powerful Forces, Level 1, North Wing

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About the Artwork

This Nail Figure served as doctor, judge, and priest. It was carved to capture the power of spirits (minkisi, singular nkisi), which was necessary for healing and adjudicating disputes. The figure was filled with powerful magical substances (bilongo) by priests (naganga) who tended it in a shrine and made its spirit powers available to individuals. The large cowrie shell held strong medicines that gave the sculpture its power. This nkisi n'kondi would have originally worn a large beard and a straw skirt. When an agreement was reached, both sides would swear an oath before the nkisi n'kondi and drive iron blades or nails into it to seal the oath. In this way the figure's supernatural powers could be called upon to punish those who broke their oaths.

Nail Figure

between 1875 and 1900

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African

Kongo

Wood with screws, nails, blades, cowrie shell and other materials

Overall: 45 1/2 inches × 18 1/2 inches × 15 inches (115.6 × 47 × 38.1 cm)

Sculpture

African Art

Founders Society Purchase, Eleanor Clay Ford Fund for African Art

76.79

Copyright not assessed, please contact [email protected].

Markings

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Provenance

Formerly in the Collection of: Museum fur Volkerkunde, Leipzig.

For more information on provenance and its important function in the museum, please visit:

Provenance page

Exhibition History

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The exhibition history of a number of objects in our collection only begins after their acquisition by the museum, and may reflect an incomplete record.

We welcome your feedback for correction and/or improvement.

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Published References

Detroit Collects African Art. Exh. cat., Detroit Institute of Arts. Detroit, 1977, no. 136 (ill.).

Bulletin of the DIA 56 (April, 1977): 13.

Bulletin of the DIA, no. 4 (1978): 206.

“Family Art Game.” DIA Advertising Supplement, Detroit Free Press, May 20, 1979, 2 (ill.).

Armstrong, R. P. The Powers of Presence. Philadelphia, 1981, fig 2.

100 Masterworks from the Detroit Institute of Arts. New York, 1985, pp. 68-69 (ill.).

Perspectives: Angles on African Art. Exh. cat., Center for African Art. New York, 1987.

African Masterworks In The Detroit Institute of Arts. Washington and London, 1995, cat. no. 58.

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Catalogue Raisoneé

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Credit Line for Reproduction

Kongo, African, Nail Figure, between 1875 and 1900, Wood with screws, nails, blades, cowrie shell and other materials. Detroit Institute of Arts, Founders Society Purchase, Eleanor Clay Ford Fund for African Art, 76.79.

Nail Figure
Nail Figure