Commemorative Portrait of a Chief (Singiti)

Hemba artist

On view at The Met Fifth Avenue in Gallery 136

The subject of this posthumous commemorative portrait was the sovereign of a Hemba chiefdom during the nineteenth century in what is today the southeastern sector of the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Not every Hemba chief was honored with such a depiction. Such commissions were divinely sanctioned when a sitting chief was visited in a dream by one of his predecessors and this was interpreted as a sign that a singiti figure should be carved in that individual’s honor. Hemba artists emphasized two bodily passages of such representations – the head as the site of one’s intellect where knowledge is taken in through the eyes and the stomach where the umbilicus is the point of connection with one’s extended lineage. A Hemba chief inherited a series of such works that were housed in a dedicated structure centrally located in the community adjacent to his residence. Although the talents of the most gifted Hemba artists were drawn upon for such creations, historically only their caretaker and the ancestors had access to the works.

Commemorative Portrait of a Chief (Singiti), Hemba artist, Wood, Dogon

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