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Art/ Collection/ Art Object

Vessel: Female Figure

19th–20th century
Democratic Republic of the Congo, Sankuru River region
Kuba peoples
Wood, metal
H. 12 1/2 in. (31.8 cm)
Credit Line:
Gift from The Edwards-Britt Collection, 1977
Accession Number:
Not on view
The Sankuru River marks the border between the Dengese and their powerful southern neighbors, the Kuba. Although the Kuba kingdom eventually surpassed the Dengese chiefdoms in size, wealth, political power, and abundance of 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 sumptuous articles as visible signs of their wealth and rank. Highly specialized artists--carvers, smiths, weavers, embroiderers, leather workers, jewelers, even 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 officials.
The intricate geometric patterns that cover the surfaces of Dengese and Kuba sculpture are borrowed from the motifs embroidered on luxurious velvet raffia cloths.
Raymond Britt Sr., Florida and Illinois; Adrienne Britt Edwards, Cincinnati, Ohio, until 1977

Vansina, Jan. La Royaume Kuba. Tervuren: Royal Museum for Central Africa, 1964.

Vansina, Jan. The Children of Woot. Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 1978.

Cornet, Joseph. Art Royal Kuba. Milan: Edizioni Sipiel, 1982.

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