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Figure of a dog  (nkisi)
Date: Late 19th-early 20th century
Medium: Wood, resin, mirror, ceramic
Dimensions: H x W x D: 7.8 x 13.5 x 5.3 cm (3 1/16 x 5 5/16 x 2 1/16 in.)
Credit Line: Gift of Lawrence Gussman in memory of Dr. Albert Schweitzer
Geography: Democratic Republic of the Congo
Object Number: 98-15-8
Search Terms:
Power
dog
Object is not currently on exhibit

Dogs have a special place in Kongo thinking about the spirit world. As domestic animals, they belong in the village, home of the living. As hunting dogs, they go into the forest, land of the dead. Kozo, a dog-form nkisi (object that invokes the spirits), helped a diviner track witches. It was often grouped with a specific type of nkisi, an nkisi nkondi, "the hunter." The figure shown here still retains resin and mirror-covered medicinal material on its back, with traces of additional material under the tail. Its open mouth may also have been used to hold substances. The shining ceramic inlaid eyes symbolize the ability to see into the spirit realm. The articulation of the ribs apparent on this example is rare in Kongo sculptures and particularly unusual on dog sculptures; on human figures, it may be a reference to the association of the nkisi to chest diseases. While live hunting dogs are always kept trim, a starving hunting dog could be a subtle metaphor for the increase in illness and hunger caused by European colonization and its disruption of community life.

Wood dog with curled tail, open mouth, mirror covered resin container on its back, traces of resin around the opening under the tail, white pigment and ceramic shards in the eyes.

Edgar Beer, Belgium, 1965


Lawrence Gussman, New York, 1965 to 1998


Earth Matters: Land as Material and Metaphor in the Arts of Africa, National Museum of African Art, Smithsonian Institution, Washington, D.C., April 22, 2013-February 23, 2014; Fowler Museum at UCLA, University of California, Los Angeles, April 19-September 14, 2014; Bowdoin College Museum of Art, October 15, 2015-March 9, 2016



Artful Animals, National Museum of African Art, Smithsonian Institution, Washington, D.C., July 1, 2009-July 25, 2010



BIG/small, National Museum of African Art, Smithsonian Institution, Washington, D.C., January 17-July 23, 2006



A Personal Journey: Central African Art from the Lawrence Gussman Collection, Neuberger Museum of Art, Purchase, NY, September 30, 2001-January 13, 2002; Philbrook Museum of Art, Tulsa, OK, February 10-April 7, 2002; National Museum of African Art, Smithsonian Institution, Washington, D.C., September 29, 2001-August 14, 2002



New Acquisitions: Gifts from the Lawrence Gussman Collection, National Museum of African Art, Smithsonian Institution, Washington, D.C., December 14, 1998-May 5, 1999


Milbourne, Karen E. 2013. Earth Matters: Land as Material and Metaphor in the Arts of Africa. New York: The Monacelli Press; Washington, D.C.: National Museum of African Art, Smithsonian Institution, p. 110, no. 86.


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