Collected in situ by Joseph Christiaens junior, early 1970s
Christiaens Family Collection, Bruges
Jacques Blanckaert, Brussels, acquired from the above
Hélène and Philippe Leloup, Paris and New York, acquired from the above
Robert Rubin, New York, acquired from the above on January 27, 1987
Marcel Peeters Centrum, Antwerp, Cent chefs-d'oeuvre du musée ethnographique d'Anvers et de collections particulières: Sculptures africaines - Nouveau regard sur un héritage, November 16 - December 2, 1975
Credit Communal de Belgique, Brussels, Oerkunsten van zwart Afrika/Arts Premiers d'Afrique Noire, March 5 - April 17, 1977
The Museum of Modern Art, New York, Primitivism in 20th Century Art, September 27, 1984 - January 15, 1985; additional venues:
The Detroit Institute of Arts, Detroit, February 27 - May 19, 1985
The Dallas Museum of Art, Dallas, June 23 - September 1, 1985
The Mary and Leigh Block Art Gallery, Northwestern University, Evanston, Wild Spirits - Strong Medicine: African Art and the Wilderness, September 21 - November 22, 1989; additional venues:
The Lowe Art Museum, The University of Miami, Miami, December 14, 1989 - January 28, 1990
The Columbus Museum of Art, Columbus, February 18 - April 30, 1990
The Worcester Art Museum, Worcester, September 15 - December 1, 1990
The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, Art and Oracle: Spirit Voices of Africa, April 25 - July 30, 2000
Sean Kelly Gallery, New York, Primitivism Revisited: After the End of an Idea, December 15, 2006 - January 27, 2006
The Menil Collection, Houston, Texas, Art and Power in the Central African Savanna. Luba/Songye/Chokwe/Luluwa, September 26, 2008 - January 4, 2009; additional venues:
The Cleveland Museum of Art, Cleveland, March 1 - June 7, 2009
Fine Arts Museum of San Francisco, de Young Museum, San Francisco, June 27 - October 11, 2009
Roger H. Marijnissen, Cent chefs-d'oeuvre du musée ethnographique d'Anvers et de collections particulières, Antwerp, 1975, p. 66, no. 96
Philippe Guimiot and Lucien Van de Velde, Oerkunsten van zwart Afrika/Arts Premiers d'Afrique Noire, Brussels, 1977, p. 149, no. 106
François Neyt, Arts traditionnels et histoire au Zaïre : cultures forestières et royaumes de la savane, Brussels, 1981, pp. 264-265, fig. XIV.6
William Rubin (ed.), "Primitivism" in 20th Century Art: Affinity of the Tribal and the Modern, New York, 1984, vol I, p. 159
Martha G. Anderson and Christine Mullen Kreamer, Wild Spirits, Strong Medicine: African Art and the Wilderness, New York, 1989, p. 121, cat. 80 and front cover
Anthony Shelton (ed.), Fetishism: Visualising Power and Desire, London, 1995, p. 45, pl. 13
Alisa Lagamma, Art and Oracle: African Art and Rituals of Divination, New York, 2000, p. 67, cat. 43
François Neyt, Songye: la redoutable statuaire songye d'Afrique centrale, Anvers, 2004, p. 145, fig. 109
Constantijn Petridis, Art and Power in the Central African Savanna. Luba/Songye/Chokwe/Luluwa, 2008, p. 83, cat. 56
The Songye power figure from the Rubin Collection is an exceptional example of its type. The refined wooden sculpture is almost completely hidden behind a "second skin" of copper nails. The deep eye sockets and open mouth give the figure a sense of sublime power and otherwordly magic.
Songye power figures (nkisi; pl. mankishi) of the scale of the Rubin figure were personal devices with numerous possible applications. According to Petridis (2008: 82 with reference to Allan Merriam), most personally owned mankishi "were meant to preserve women's fertility. They also protected against sorcerers, guarded the home against lightning, or ensured good harvests. [...] These small mankishi also showed a striking diversity in expression and craftsmanship [...]." And with reference specifically to the Rubin Songye Power Figure, Petridis continues (loc. cit., text to cat. 56): "The explicit rendering of genitalia may suggest the desired gender of a couple's first child [...]."
Widely published and exhibited, the Rubin Songye is one of the icons of African art.
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