African art

The Congo Region

The sculpture of the Kongo kingdom is usually characterized by naturalism. Each of the culture's ancestor figures represents a personalized portrait and reveals details of body decoration and dress. The best-known art works of the Bateke of the W Congo are small power figures. These figures stand with arms close to the body in a stiff, frontal pose. The Bapende sculptors of the W Congo give a fluid surface to their ivory pendants portraying human faces. The Bembe created small-scale sculptures in wood meant to contain the spirits of the ancestors. Typical of these figures are thick lips and beards and eyes often inlaid with porcelain.

In the Bushongo kingdom statues of royalty were carved (17th to 19th cent.). The king was shown in a pose of static aloofness, wearing a flat crown and often holding a ritual sword. The Basonge of the central Congo carved small standing power figures and masks, bold in proportion and anticipating cubism. The Baluba of the SE Congo produced bowls and stools supported by slender figures. Small ivory masks and neck rests were made in the E Congo. The art of the Chokwe of S Congo and Angola consists of freestanding figures, ceremonial staff heads, masks, and carved stools. The dynamically carved figures are particularly outstanding.

The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.

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