ArtsConnectEd/ArtsNet Minnesota
What is Art?

Art and Artists
 Africa, Zaire
 England, Higham Manor,
 Donald Judd
 New Mexico (Mimbres)
 Claes Oldenburg and
 Coosje van Bruggen
 Thailand,  (Blue Hmong)
 Robert Rauschenberg

Inner Worlds Environment   Identity Designing Spaces and Places
Africa, Zaire
About the Artist

While we do not know the names of the individuals who created this figure, we do know that, in the beginning, every nkisi nkondi is made by two community members, working together. One is a sculptor, whose job it is to carve a figure that appears full of strength, and the other is a nganga, a ritual expert. The nganga adds substances and materials that give this figure its spirit and power. According to an authority named Nsemi Isaki, nkisi "is the name of a thing we use to help a man when he is sick and from which we obtain health; the name refers to leaves and medicines combined together."

The nganga knows the power, positive and negative, of many natural substances. He or she creates medicine bundles that contain complex mixtures and then attaches some of them around the neck of the figure and inserts others into the container that is its belly. Nsemi Isaki said, "medicines placed in an nkisi are...forces in its body to help it to work. The nkisi is as it is, but if it lacks medicines, it cannot do a thing. So the nkisi has medicines, they are its strength, and its hands and feet and eyes; medicines are all these."

Because of how the nkisi is used by the community, over time it acquires many blades, nails, and more medicines. So it is really the creation of many hands, each adding to its awesome polwer.

[Nsemi Isaki's remarks were recorded around 1900, and can be found in John M. Janzen and Wyatt MacGaffey's book, An Anthology fo Kongo Religion: Primary Texts from Lower Zaire (Lawrence, The University of Kansas Publications in Anthropology, 1974).]

Vocabulary Terms

ritual--A ceremonial act or action.

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Inner Worlds | What Is Art? | Environment | Designing Spaces and Places | Identity
About the Art | About the Artist | Discussion Questions/Activities | Teacher Lessons