In his reference book on Kongo art (Art & Kongos, 1995), Marc Felix gave the name of "Gangala" to the style currently considered as the apotheosis of Bembe art. Although Raoul Lehuard (Art Bakongo. Les centres de styles, 1989, vol. II, p. 371) had seen, in these pieces, the sub-style through which "Bembe art reached its apex", Marc Felix defined both the corpus and its origin with greater precision.
The five pieces that make up the aforementioned corpus are the following: the male figure formerly in the Max Itzikovitz collection (Falgayrettes-Leveau, Le Geste Kôngo, 2002, p. 40); the figure in the British Museum (inv. No. MMO 14623); one discovered last April at auction; the female effigy from the former Denise and Marc Ginzberg collection (Lehuard, ibid, p. 374); and finally, the figure presented here. These sculptures are all standing figures with their arms folded and their hands reaching out in a contained movement. They all bear a series of common traits: a thin base, the forehead subtly coiling above the brows and emphasizing the forcefulness of the tight features of the face, the ample stylised shoulder blades and the dorsal groove that adds to the tension of the stances, the detailing of the upturned thumbs, triangular tragi and external malleoli carved into a half-moon shape. Whilst the two male effigies feature a dorsal cavity unknown in classical Bembe statuary, the female figures – as is the case for the one presented here – feature a much sharper cavity in the lower abdomen. Finally they all stand out for the remarkable smoothness of their outlines and the depth of their silken patina, which highlights in these miniatures (the two largest, of which this is one, are 20 cm tall), the prodigious monumentality of the sculptural movement.
For Marc Felix (ibid, p. 199), "even though at first glance the Gangala style appears to form a link between the Bembe and the Bwende style, it remains marked by specific high-quality characteristics. Far from being (a compromise) between both, it is a well-balanced combination of the elegance of the former with the forcefulness of the latter. The originality comes from the fact that the similarities between these proximate styles are set into a different context." The remarkable individuality and consistency of this limited corpus, as well as the specificity in the detailing that amounts to a "signature", are clear evidence of a single master's hand, probably of Bwende origin, having worked in Bembe country, and whose companions helped disseminate his style, as uniquely individual as it is magnificent.
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