Democratic Republic of the Congo, Sankuru River region
Wood, fiber, pigment
H. 8 1/4 x W. 4 9/16 x D. 5 1/4 in. (21 x 11.5 x 13.3 cm)
The Michael C. Rockefeller Memorial Collection, Bequest of Nelson A. Rockefeller, 1979
On view at The Met Fifth Avenue in Gallery 352
The Sankuru River marks the border between the Dengese and their powerful southern neighbors, the Kuba. Although the Kuba kingdom, founded in the early seventeenth century, eventually surpassed the Dengese chiefdoms in size, wealth, political power, and artworks, royal historians recall a period in the distant past when the Kuba paid tribute to a Dengese ruler. The origins of Kuba culture can be traced to the Dengese and related peoples, and the two groups share many of the same symbols of authority.
Ambitious and status-conscious Kuba and Dengese officials require splendid sumptous articles as visible signs of their wealth and rank. Highly specialized artists--carvers, smiths, weavers, embroiderers, leather workers, jewelers, event hat and pipe-makers--supply their needs. Kuba art consists mostly of such useful objects as cups for drinking palm wine, boxes for storing cosmetics and valuables, pipes, and spoons--all of which are elaborated beyond mere function by their sophisticated forms and lavish decoration. Except for portraits of kings, figural sculpture is rare; instead, cups are made in human form, frequently bearing the ornate hairstyles and shaved hairlines worn by titled Kuba officials. These features also appear on freestanding Dengese sculptures of dignitaries, identified by a plaited raffia hat with a raffia-covered cylinder projecting from the top.
The intricate geometric patterns that cover the surfaces of Dengese and Kuba sculpture are borrowed from the motifs embroidered on luxurious velvet raffia cloths. The decorative approach to sculpture also extends to the masks used in initiations and royal ceremonies, which usually have a bright polychrome surface.
[Henri Kamer, Paris and New York, until 1954 or 1955); Antoine Leveque, Canada, from 1954 or 1955; [Henri Kamer, Paris and New York, until 1959]; Nelson A. Rockefeller, New York, 1959, on loan to The Museum of Primitive Art, New York, 1959–1978