Power Contained: The Art of Authority in Central and West Africa

Exhibition Website

Aug 19 2017 - Dec 31 2017

Before colonization, complex hierarchical societies flourished in Central and West Africa. At their summits were a select few—kings and chiefs whose authority was derived from their direct connection to powerful ancestors and predecessors. These rulers were wrapped in expensive textiles or costly furs, and covered in beads and precious metals, materials that not only signaled their extraordinary status, but were also intended to safely contain the great power they wielded. 

The famous minkisi (meaning “power figure”) sculptures of Central Africa were similarly activated through the addition of charged materials. Textiles, animal skin, metal, and beads allowed the lifeless wooden carvings to be activated by local spiritual leaders in order to communicate with the realm of the ancestors and spirits. 

This exhibition explores the parallels between the adornment of the king’s physical body and minkisi. Drawing on works from UMMA’s collection and several loans, the exhibition demonstrates how authority was expressed and power contained across a range of historical cultures in Nigeria, Ghana, the Democratic Republic of the Congo and Cameroon.

Whether or not you go, Astonishment & Power: The Eyes of Understanding: Kongo Minkisi / The Art of Renee Stout is essentially 2 books within one cover, offering insight into the Kongo Minkisi.  The Minkisi as described are figures or sometimes complexes that contain powerful medicine. Included are excellent images of fetish/nkisi power objects. As part of the book, the art of African-American artist Renee Stout and how her art has been influenced by the art of the Minki is included.

Astonishment & Power: The Eyes of Understanding: Kongo Minkisi / The Art of Renee Stout

  • Africa
  • Various artists

Exhibition Venues & Dates