All photos by Peter Zeray, © and courtesy Metropolitan

Museum of Art, except where otherwise noted

A great Kongo landmark that has been a centerpiece of the Metropolitan Museum of Art's collection since 2008 cannot fail to elicit a visceral reaction (Fig. 1). This massive sculpture of a formidable Kongo leader leans forward toward viewers ever so slightly with hands on hips. He is at once a physically commanding and deeply reflexive presence. The carved wood figure was conceived as a receptacle for an immaterial force invoked over the course of its use through the hardware added to its exterior by petitioners. Only traces of its original consecrating matter are in evidence. Those critical additions around the perimeter of the chin and secreted within interior ocular and abdominal cavities were made by a ritual specialist (nganga) once it left the sculptor's hands. Before it was exported...

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