Kongo Pair of Female Figures


20th Century AD


14.75″ (37.5cm) high




Southwestern Congo / Angola

Gallery Location



The current figures are somewhat atypical for this tradition, and it is likely that they were carved for a more pragmatic purpose, and more recently than is usual for devotional sculpture in the Barakat Gallery. However, they constitute a good indication of the apparently effortless ability of African carvers and craftsmen to design and execute carving of this quality even after the main motivation for so doing has been replaced by centralised administrations and a strongly amended religious system. Below the neck the figures are esserntially identical. They are kneeling on the right knee, bearing a child in both arms and suckling it from the left breast. Backs are straight and long, and buttocks are protuberant. Both have identical adornment in the form of bracelets on both wrists and what appears to be a strap woven across the upper trunk – perhaps a carrying device for the child? The only notable difference is that figure A has three bracelets on her left wrist (B has 2) and her child is reaching up its right arm to her breast (B’s child’s hands are resting on her midriff). Figure A has her eyes wide open, with pupils in relief, a slightly malevolent expression, tall, narrow ears and a flat-topped hat with a decorative band. Figure B has slit eyes, broad ears, a serene expression, a domed, rounded hat without a decorative band, and a slightly more prognathic profile. They both have strong brows, slightly open mouths with bared upper teeth, aquiline noses, hats decorated with a star motif when viewed in vertical persopective, and strong dimples above their upper lips. While not old, therefore, they are an eloquent demonstration that late 20th century African craftsmanship has not led to a decline in quality compared to earlier work.

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