Standing female figure
Democratic Republic of the Congo
H: 55 cm, W: 14 cm, D: 12.4 cm (H: 21.6 in, W: 5.5 in, D: 4.8 in)
Fowler Museum at UCLA. The Jerome L. Joss Collection. X87.1412
The angular, attenuated limbs, cascading fan-shaped coiffure, and small, pinched features of this standing female figure are hallmarks of a Luba art style attributed to towns and villages along the shore of Lake Kisale in the collective of Kinkondja. Sometimes called “Shankadi” by historians of African art (de Maret et al. 1977), this stylized approach to the human form is distinguished from the more fully rounded and naturalistic approach of Luba communities to the east. The precise context in which this figure was used is impossible to ascertain, since free-standing figures are not restricted to any single domain. They may be used for divination, or as part of a chief’s royal treasury, or for religious veneration and invocation. They absence of additions to the figure in the form of medicinal substances and other powerful ingredients suggests that the figure may have been used for ancestral commemoration or as a protective guardian. The arms of most Luba female figures gesture to their breasts, but the arms of this figure hang astride the long torso, hands meeting the angular hips in an inverted configuration. Shankadi figures are carved from a single piece of wood, but often portray the head, neck, chest, torso, and limbs as discrete volumes. Here, the long, columnar neck is coquettishly ringed by a three-stranded necklace, and the torso displays the widely-spaced, diamond-shaped scarification (ntapo) characteristic of this style of Luba sculpture and intended to beautify as well as to affirm social identity. According to Albert Maesen (pers. comm. 1988), the type of hairstyle depicted on this sculpture is called mikanda, meaning “steps” or “cascade”. The regional origins of this coiffure are unknown. However, a number of late nineteenth and early twentieth-century photographs show Luba women wearing variations of this style which appears on many Luba figures.
Source: Ross, Doran H. ed. (1994): “Visions of Africa”, Los Angeles, UCLA Fowler Museum of Cultural History. page 133