In this region rain forests are interspersed with grasslands. The people primarily are Bantu speakers who farm. The dominant peoples are the Kongo, including the Yombe, Vili, Sundi, and Woyo groups. The Kongo were once part of a powerful kingdom, which was visited by the Portuguese in 1482. Works of Kongo figurative art are noted for their use of expressive yet subtle gesture. They display a greater degree of naturalism than is typical for African sculpture. The forms are dynamic, and in contrast to most African sculpture there is often a deliberate departure from the principle of frontality.
Three major categories of sculpture are found in the region. Woman-and-child figures are visual metaphors for both individual and societal fertility and continuity. Power figures with embedded medicines are used as protective devices. Emblems of regalia such as staffs of office, jewelry, and hats validate political power, prestige, and authority.
North of the Kongo are the Teke peoples, whose art includes figures and skillfully incised brass neck collars made for personal adornment.
The Suku and Yaka peoples, south and east of the Kongo, live in autonomous villages. Multicolored masks are used in circumcision and male initiation rites. Yaka masks and figures have noses that are often either slightly or extremely upturned.