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ancestor figure

Core Record

Title ancestor figure
Collection Artworld: Sainsbury Centre for Visual Arts
Date 1900-1999 CE
Description This standing male figure is an ancestor figure made from wood of a dark patina. It displays an elaborate, asymmetrical hairstyle or headdress and there is extensive scarification or a detailed breastplate carved on the torso. There is a crack in the wood running vertically down the torso. He holds a gun in the left hand and a knife or powder horn in the right. The eyes are outlined in white.
Description Source Helen Coleman
Cultural Context Bembe
Id Number Current Accession 255
Location Creation Site Congo
Location Current Repository Sainsbury Centre for Visual Arts
Subject sculpture in the round, figurine, human figurine
Measurements 60 x 210 x 62 mm
Credit Line Ancestor figure. Africa, Zaire: Bembe. 20th century. Wood, glass, beads.h. 21.ocm. Acquired 1970. UEA 255.
Context Ancestor figures of the western Bembe of the Lower River of Zaire (as distinct from the Bembe just west of Lake Tanganyika) form one of the most individual groups in African art. They are small, and may constitute an actual representation of an ancestor, since they are shown holding an object evocative of the person concerned. In this case the man is holding a flintlock rifle and a large knife, showing that he was a good hunter and warrior.
The figures have the generic name mukuya, and have an anal cavity through which the diviner introduces the ancestral spirit (mukuya) which only remains within the statue for as long as it stays with its original family. The figures form a link between man and the Creator Nzambi: their role is to protect the lineage and punish infringements of tribal custom (Cornet, 1978: 84-7). Bembe figures have eyes typically made of chips of bone or china or, as here, with glass beads; the detailed rendering of tribal cicatrisations on the abdomen adds to the realistic effect. They are cared for and rubbed with palm oil, so most have a lustrous dark patina.
Context Source Margret Carey. In: Steven Hooper (ed.), 1997, Catalogue to the Robert and Lisa Sainsbury Collection. University of East Anglia.
Context Title Published Catalogue
Relation Referenced By Margret Carey
Relation References Cornet, J.1978. A Survey of Zairian Art: The Bronson Collection, Raleigh, London.
Rights Sainsbury Centre for Visual Arts, UEA, Norwich, 2002. All Rights reserved
Work Type figure



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