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Decorative Arts Exhibit

Power Figures: the Holders of Great Spiritual Might
Encompassing the Democratic Republic of Congo, the People's Republic of Congo, and parts of Angola, Central Africa is a vast region that is culturally and artistically diverse. The visual arts flourish in this region, including one of the most electrifying types of sculpture--the power figure. Power figures are carved wood figures that have been imbued with spiritual power by a ritual specialist. A diversity of ingredients can be found in power figures, including herbal medicines, avian and animal parts, mirrors, pieces of metal, and a variety of fibers, all designed to attract and concentrate spiritual power within the figure and empowering it to fulfill its intended purpose. Most power figures are created to address very specific issues, such as healing, divination, protection, or oath taking. While most power figures are created for an individual, who may share its powers with others, some power figures are intended to serve an entire community, promoting a more general state of well-being.

Secret Ingredients
To Western eyes, the sculpted wood form appears to be the most significant part of the figure; however, it simply serves as an armature for the ritual specialist who adds a variety of powerful materials. The wood sculpture is considered neutral until activated with a complex and secret combination of ingredients that varies from figure to figure. For example, if a figure is meant to heal, it may contain sea shells that are associated with powerful water spirits that have the ability to restore health. Mirrors, usually placed on the belly, are a common addition to power figures, especially those associated with divination. Mirrors become the "eyes" of the figure, allowing it to see into the spiritual realm. Horns from ferocious animals are also frequently added to power figures to intensify their strength. In addition to visible elements such as horns, mirrors, and shells, a variety of herbal medicines are often concealed in recessed areas in the head and belly, augmenting the intensity of the figure.

Unique Identities
While power figures are owned by individuals and, sometimes, entire communities, each figure is thought to have its own identity and its own life cycle of events and achievements. Power figures are treated with great respect for the power they wield and the help they provide those seeking assistance.

For more information on power figures, call Corinne at 239-220-1018.

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