Kongo women handbuilt the majority of domestic pottery, but male Kongo potters fashioned pipes and bowls for calabash water pipes and vessels with animal and human figures that they sold to outside markets. On occasion, men were observed creating water and cooking vessels for local use.
More significantly, men produced important ritual pottery, including Kongo grave objects, the tall, hollow, open-based cylindrical terracotta forms known as mabondo. Although 17th-century Europeans described terracottas on Kongo graves that may be linked to mabondo, more recent scholarship suggests that the form originated in the 19th century. Wealthy Kongo commissioned mabondo to commemorate the dead. They were often highly decorated with figures or incised and impressed motifs. The diamond motifs with bosses at the corners of this vessel probably represent the journey the Kongo believe humans must take when they die, traveling between the land of the living and the land of the dead. Production ceased in the 1930s.
Kongo men and women employed similar methods to create their vessels, but the men had exclusive use of some implements. For example, male potters sometimes handbuilt their vessels on turntables made of wood or clay. The turntable was attached to a wood plank which was fixed to the ground with a long spike or a small piece of wood, a stone or a clay pivot. Assistants turned the devices with their hands or if the edges of the turntable were serrated, the potters manipulated them with their feet. They then fired their vessels in the open.
Columnar shaped object divided into four horizontal registers and opened at both ends. The top and third registers are decorated with interlace patterns. The third register is decorated with a diamond pattern and the bottom register is undecorated. Four handles are at the top.
Walshaert collection, Antwerp, before 1930
Marc Leo Felix, Brussels, late 1980s
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
Ceramics at the National Museum of African Art 3rd level Pots, National Museum of African Art, Smithsonian Institution, Washington, D.C., January 8, 1998 to the present
Astonishment and Power: Kongo Minkisi and the Art of Renee Stout, National Museum of African Art, Smithsonian Institution, Washington, D.C., April 28, 1993-January 15, 1994
MacGaffey in MacGaffey, Wyatt and Michael Harris. 1993. Astonishment and Power. Washington D.C.: National Museum of African Art, Smithsonian Institution, p. 61, no. 42.
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, pp. 96-97, no. 74.
National Museum of African Art. 1999. Selected Works from the Collection of the National Museum of African Art. Washington, D.C.: National Museum of African Art, Smithsonian Institution, p. 120, no. 81.