Figure, Songye, Democratic Republic of the Congo
According to François Neyt the central style of the Kalebwe ya ngongo (Santeri region and North Eastern boundaries of Songye country) stands as a testament to the "creativity and identity of the Kalebwe, who are split into multiple groups" (Neyt, Songye. La redoutable statuaire Songye d’Afrique centrale, 2009, p. 330).
Superbly presented here in all the forcefulness of its concentrated volumes, the geometric rigor of its whittled forms and its finely modelled features, this style is also reflected in the addition of copper nails, the line of which accentuates the tension of the pear-shaped face. The magic-religious charges stored in the navel and atop the head are a reminder of its role as a mediator between spirits and men, and of that played by the nganga - a ritual specialist with protective and healing powers - who prepared the medicines that ensured the effectiveness of the nkisi statues.
See Neyt (ibid, p. 29) for one of the first known Songye statues in Europe, comparable in style and size, collected by Stanley in 1876 and now kept at the Royal Museum of Central Africa in Tervuren; and Hersak (Songye Masks and Figure Sculpture, 2007, p. 156, No. 110) for another one acquired in 1925.
In 1983, collector and art historian Helmut Zake (1918-1995) founded a "circle of encounters and discussions for ethnologists and African art collectors," known as the "Zake circle". This work is an illustration of the constant search he led, focused on the authenticity and artistic quality of the pieces.
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