I am taking a Religion: Meaning and Purpose in the Arts class. Use the book Flash of the Spirit by Robert Farris Thompson (Vintage Books, 1984) to make a short response on how art represents Kongo’s reality. Use Chapter 2: pp. 116-131 and 71-84 for the paper.
How Art Represents Kongo’s Reality
Various Kongo art forms give meaning to their socio-cultural behaviours and metaphysical beliefs. Most artistic features are carefully thought out as they represent abstract concepts with real-world implications that impact their lives. Therefore, Kongo’s symbolic-driven art portrays a spiritual reality that transcends its borders to influence cultures across America.
The Nkisi exemplifies the power attributed to Kongo artefacts, with the charm representing divine power in miniaturized form. For example, the Nkisi’s gleaming bottom represents the Kongo’s cosmogram’s lower half and its feathers the upper half, thus signifying a miniaturized cosmos that heals its people while using spiritual forces to judge and punish the wicked (Johnsons 118,119, 121, 123). The concept makes such charms as Nkisi Nkita Nsumbu simple on the outside and complex on the inside (Johnsons 118). According to the Kongo, the Nkisi is alive and contains agency over its existence, and its essence contains a soul (mooyo) and medicines (bilongo). Similarly, the charm serves as the owner’s confidante while also healing them by hunting and chasing illnesses from their body, thus safeguarding their health (Johnsons 117). Therefore, the Nkisi represents divine power working amongst the people, which extends towards the symbolic features and items contained in the charm. For example, the charm contains two Kunda bells which drive out bad luck and activates the medicine (Johnsons 118). The knife in the medicine protects the individual from needles and knives thrown by Nkita at sick people (Johnsons 118). Similarly, the Ki-Kongo’s syllables of beans, kernels, and plant buds lie concealed within the whitish river clay, serving as puns on healing and assuagement (Johnsons 118). On the other hand, the claws or a hen’s foot represents the charm spirit’s captivating power, while the black stone pulverized kaolin into a paste applied to the ritual expert’s eyes, which grants them mystic vision (Johnsons 118-119). A pear-shaped seed in the Nkisi resembles cupped palms, thus symbolizing generosity. However, the white shape represents the sorcerer’s ability to strike immoral individuals with skin disease, creating natural phenomena such as storms, and protecting the righteous (119). Therefore, the Nkisi contains divine power, and its artistic feature contains the symbolic implication that influences the Kongo people’s social and cultural life.
Apart from the divine power to perform justice, the Nkisi has spiritual use amongst the Kongo people. The Kongo people believed that the charm contained medicines (bilongo) which were spirit-embodying and -directing. The spirit embodied materials such as porcelain and mirrors, which signified power and spiritual arrest (Johnsons 118). According to the Kongo, the spirit within the Nkisi signifies a departed spirit that serves the charm’s owner or a witchcraft victim’s spirit forced to serve the charming owner for the good of the community (Johnsons 118). For example, the Minkisi belonging to a black arts ritual expert, J.S.Baro, contained earth and bones aimed at telling the spirits cryptically what to do, with its power emanating from the stars (Johnsons 123 -124). Similarly, the Kongo-Cubans also used Minsiki figuring to perform spiritual reconnaissance, attack enemies, and locate games (Johnsons 125). Therefore, the Kongo used charms to commune with the spirit world, thus affecting people’s socio-economic lives.
Kongo art represented abstract social themes that influenced their daily lives. The relevance of art in representing the connection between the physical and metaphysical world resulted in abstraction that embraced both worlds. Therefore, the concept of spirituality and cosmogram gains realism that fascinates contemporary scholars and adds knowledge on the correlation of African art with spiritualism and social life.
Thompson, Robert Farris. Flash of the Spirit. Vintage Books, 1984.
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Published On: 01-01-1970