Lot 114
  • 114

Teke Power Figure with Hermaphroditic Features, Democratic Republic of the Congo

100,000 - 150,000 USD
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  • cowrie shell, wood
  • Height: 27 1/2 in (69.9 cm)
buti, the hermaphroditic figure standing on parted bent legs of highly cubist shape, without indication of primary sexual organs, the straight torso with pointed breasts and arms held to the abdomen, the massive neck surmounted by a head with a rectangular beard beneath an almond shaped mouth, a triangular nose bisecting small incised eyes, the wide forehead beneath a bi-furcated hornlike coiffure; one large clay bundle attached to the abdomen between the pointed breasts; "H.G. [Helena Gourielli] 20" in white pigment on bottom of thigh; exceptionally fine, aged dark brown patina with encrustation.


Helena Rubinstein, New York, Paris and London
Parke-Bernet Galleries, New York and Sotheby & Co, London, The Collection of Helena Rubinstein, Princess Gourielli, New York, Paris and London, Sold by Order of the Executors of Her Estate, April 21, 1966, lot 245
Hy Klebanow, New York, acquired at the above auction
Alan Brandt, New York, acquired from the above
Myron Kunin, Minneapolis, acquired from the above on May 23, 1990


Joseph T. Butler, American antiques, 1800-1900: a collector's history and guide, New York, 1965, p. 177
Suzanne Slesin, Over the Top: Helena Rubinstein: Extraordinary Style, Beauty, Art, Fashion Design, New York, 2003, pp. 75 and 164


Good condition for an object of this age and rare type. Age crack down the front of the figure from behind chin through pelvis as visible in catalogue illustrations and in archival photo (1930s). Minor marks, nicks, scratches, abrasions, cracks, and small chips consistent with age and use. Smaller age cracks to either side of the head. Crusty charge material in abdomen with craquelure and chipping and small losses around edges, and one larger loss on proper right side. Fine aged, blackened patina with encrustation. Permanently fixed to Inagaki base. "H.G. 20" painted in white on reverse of proper right leg (referring to Helena Gourielli, née Rubinstien).
In response to your inquiry, we are pleased to provide you with a general report of the condition of the property described above. Since we are not professional conservators or restorers, we urge you to consult with a restorer or conservator of your choice who will be better able to provide a detailed, professional report. Prospective buyers should inspect each lot to satisfy themselves as to condition and must understand that any statement made by Sotheby's is merely a subjective qualified opinion.

Catalogue Note

Standing Teke buti figures of the age and size of the Kunin figure are extremely rare. Its deep patination attests to a long period of ritual use. Already in its monumentality and the pristine preservation of the frontal clay bundle, it is one of the most extraordinary examples known. For a stylistically related seated figure with similar facial features in the Museum for Ethnography, Budapest ('59.33.2) see Lehuard (1974: 124, fig. 62). For another standing figure with similar treatment of the limbs from the collection of the Renee and Chaim Gross Foundation, New York, see MoAA (1976: 72, fig. 60); for a third figure, previously also in the collection of Helena Rubinstein and subsequently in the collection of Shelly and Norman Dinhofer see Sotheby's, New York, May 16, 2008, lot 57.

However, two additional attributes render the Kunin figure exceptional. First, the coiffure terminating in two horn-like protrusions is exceedingly rare. Only one other example with similar hairstyle is known, see Lehuard (1996: 248, fig. 1.2.1). Second, while genitals are not represented the Kunin figure bears both male and female secondary sexual organs, including female breasts and a beard. For other hermaphroditic figures see one in the collection of Georg Baselitz and another previously in the collection of Baudoin de Grunne (both published in Lehuard 1996: 262-263, figs. 5.1.1. & 5.1.2).

LaGamma (2007: 304) notes: "In Teke society the ikwii, or shades of the death, warded off calamities perpetrated by witches. The father of a family invoked the ikwii of his father, mother, and sometimes his mother's brother on behalf of his own children and wives. A shrine to one's deceased family members featured reliquary figures of some of those individuals (buti) along with other items [...].

"Buti were named after and identified with the specific male ancestors whom they embodied. Generally those individuals were renowned chiefs or leaders whose presence assured the community's well-being. The sacred component of buti was composed of earth from the grave of the deceased, which was considered to contain traces of his corporeal being. [...] As the responsibility of individual family leaders, buti were kept within their owners' home. Those of a village leader afforded to benefits to the community at large. It appears that, on the death of its owner, a buti was often buried with him along with all his other belongings."