Power Figures: the Holders of Great Spiritual
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.
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.
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