Conveying Power and Authority

Artist unknown (Central Pende peoples, Democratic Republic of the Congo)
Adze, early 20th century
Iron, wood, pigment
Felix Collection

About the Artwork

This ceremonial adze, with its figurative handle and bifurcated, tongue-like iron blade, once dignified the left shoulder of a Pende chief. He wore it as an emblem of high office when traveling. Never intended to carve wood, the adze was instead made to symbolically represent smooth-cutting diplomacy, straight talk, and efficient negotiation. The bird at the top alludes to the chief’s birds-eye view, or oversight, of his domain. In contrast, the calm, masklike face from which the blade emerges is protected by another set of eyes, keeping watch behind him. The seamless design of the handle and blade is most likely the work of a single artist.

Thinking About Art: Presenting Power

After looking closely at this artwork, answer the following questions:

  • How does this ceremonial adze, which was once worn by a Pende chief, communicate power to viewers?

 

  • This adze visually interprets several metaphors, such as a bird overlooking a domain. If you were tasked with designing an adze for a current leader (such as your school’s principal), what would you include?

 

  • It is thought that this adze was created by a single artist. What question(s) would you ask the artist to better understand how they created this piece?

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