It was Raoul Lehuard who, in his seminal book, Art Bakongo, les centres de style (1989, p. 157-169), was the first to identify the "Dondo-Kamba style" in the Niari valley (in North-Eastern Kongo country) through two documented pieces of the Götesborg Etnografiska Museum, collected in 1909 and 1910. The style he outlined ("One of the most realistic in Lower Zaire"), characterized by an elongated body, the concentrated expression of the face, a shell like coiffure and a diamond-shaped tattoo adorning the forehead, was defined more precisely by Marc Felix in Art & Kongos (1995), who made the distinction between the history and specific traditions of neighbouring Dondo and Kamba groups, from a single Sundi substrate.
Collected by explorer Charles Perdrizet around 1890, this statue represents, along with that of the Ethnography Museum of Geneva (inv. No. 21318, cf. Lehuard, ibid, p. 165), the two great Nkonde, which – according to Marc Felix – illustrate the Kamba style. "Amongst the metal objects planted in the body of these statues, knife blades are numerous and, singularly (on the Perdrizet statue), some have retained their handles. These statues are more proportionate, more naturalistic and less elongated than those of their southern neighbours – the Sundi, the Manyanga and the Dondo" (Felix, ibid, p. 188).
Whilst the patina and inclusion of iron coins and tools (rather than European nails) are visible signs of its great antiquity at the remote time of its collection, the ultimate expression of the style is also revealed in the forceful presence of the slightly raised face, and in the detail of the scarification and coiffure. Through its Nkonde - "nail fetish" - theme and stuck-out tongue (a sign of conjuration) this statue represents one of the most eloquent demonstrations of the great Kongo tradition as claimed by the Kamba.
Finally it recalls the paramount power of women in the formerly matriarchal Kamba society (cf. Felix, ibid, p. 186-187). Sculpture grants them exclusivity over its iconographic repertoire, depicting them not as mothers, but as dignitaries and – as is the case here – as powerful intercessors.
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