Although art has historically glorified the powerful, it can also be a means of communication and expression for those without power. These Congolese works represent opposite ends of the social spectrum.
The mwaash aMbooy mask is emblematic of royal power and prestige for the Kuba kingdom of the central Congo. It represents Woot, the founding hero from whom the Kuba trace their descent, and is worn only by the king (nyim) or by local chiefs. In both its dance and as a sculpture, it is a vision of gravity and composure.
The contemporary portraits by Aimé Mpane, in turn, depict the struggles of those without access to power. They show ordinary citizens of Kinshasa, along with representations of their fears and desires. The artist carves these images from plywood, turning two-dimensional surfaces into works filled with light and shadow (suggesting both presence and absence) that animate the stories of the dispossessed.
Mask of thin parchment, painted. Elaborately trimmed with shell and hair decoration. Shell eyes. The surface is highly decorative, composed of intricately painted geometric designs and geometrically arranged cowrie shells and beads. One feature, a long strip of beaded decoration extending from the bridge of the nose to the chin is present. Emphasis placed on 2 dimensional surface quality and elaborate polychromy. Condition: Headdress worn and torn.
Kuba Nyim (kinga) Kot a-Mbweeky III, Congo by Eliot Elisofon
Nyim Kot a-Mbweeky III wearing royal dress ‘Bwaantshy’; royal headdress known as 'Ntshuum Aniym’; necklace 'Lashyaash’ made of leopard teeth; sword 'Mbombaam’; lance 'Mbwoom Ambady
The full name of the Kuba Nyim depicted on the photograph is Kwεt áMbwε'ky René (III): aka Køt áMbwε'ky. Most full names consist of three successive personal names: the king’s own name, the name of his mother and the name of his mother’s mother connected by particles meaning “of.” Only this ruler has a Christian name. The aka names are often used source