Date: 19th–early 20th century
Geography: Republic of Congo
Culture: Kuyu peoples
Medium: Wood, pigment
Dimensions: H. 53 3/4 in. (136.5 cm)
Credit Line: Purchase, Funds from various donors, Daniel and Marian Malcolm Gift, and Laura and James J. Ross Gift, 2006
Accession Number: 2006.447
Kuyu sculpture is distinctive for its play between figurative and two-dimensional abstraction as well as its emphasis on vibrant coloration. This early work collected in French Equatorial Africa by the colonial official Aristide Courteois, has preserved the rich palette of natural colors that were critical to its aesthetic appeal. Its author has conceived of the body as a canvas upon which an impressive expanse of graphic signs have been boldly articulated and masterfully integrated into a harmonious composition. This work is unique for its subject's embodiment of the idea of heightened powers of vision and omniscience through the repetition of three nearly identical faces around the perimeter of the head. Related figures were used in initiation ceremonies that imparted esoteric knowledge concerning the secrets of mystical forces and ancestral influence. While such an elaborate and iconographically complex creations doubtless played an important role in embodying abstract cultural concepts, little is known about this tradition that was historically inaccessible to outside observers and has not survived into the present.