Story Archive

In this stunning recent acquisition, white seed beads arranged into repeating triangles create a dazzling positive-negative effect.

While much is already known about the ways Kongo people relied on minkisi to solve social, political, and bodily problems, X-ray examination provides new information about this figure’s internal structure.

This exhibition of exceptional sculptures from the Princeton University Art Museum, including works newly acquired from the Holly and David Ross Collection, explores culturally significant additions and changes to sculptures’ surfaces made over time. 

The exhibition Kongo across the Waters begins its exploration of the vibrant art of the kingdom of Kongo (located in present-day Angola, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, and Republic of the Congo) in the fifteenth century—but the story is an ongoing one. In recent years, contemporary artists working in Africa, the Caribbean, and the Americas have engaged with the kingdom of Kongo’s history, spiritual traditions, and aesthetics.

This fall, Chika Okeke-Agulu, associate professor in the Department of Art and Archaeology, taught the seminar “Kongo Art,” which engaged with the exhibition Kongo across the Waters to explore the artistic qualities and legacy of the Kongo kingdom, as well as the effects of Belgian colonial rule (1885–1960) on modern art in Africa, the Americas, and Europe. Juliana Ochs Dweck, Andrew W. Mellon Curatorial Fellow for Collections Engagement, spoke with Professor Okeke-Agulu about how contemporary artists look to Kongo arts for inspiration.

Kongo across the Waters notably presents a rich selection of Kongo minkisi (singular nkisi). A nkisi is a container that holds an ancestral spirit as well as empowering materials or medicines. 

The African gallery’s display of Akan regalia is one of its most popular, used equally by university students, Museum docents, and visiting K–12 students and teachers.

Magdalene Odundo (Kenyan, born 1950, active in the United Kingdom), Untitled, 1990. Burnished clay, height 35.2 cm. Museum purchase, Mary Trumbull Adams Art Fund (2013-28). Photo: Bruce M. White

Considered one of the premier ceramicists working today, Magdalene Odundo, born in Kenya, produces ceramic objects whose beauty emanates from their voluptuous forms and shimmering surfaces. These qualities characterize the Museum’s recent acquisition of an early classic Odundo work from 1990: a roundbodied pot with a graceful widemouthed neck and a smooth-burnished dark surface.

Mbun artist (Democratic Republic of the Congo, Kwilu-Kongo River Basin), Woman’s skirt, before 1912. Raffia palm fiber, 10.2 x 73.7 x 113 cm. Museum purchase, Hugh Leander Adams, Mary Trumbull Adams, and Hugh Trumbull Adams Princeton Art Fund (2012-94).

A new selection of works in the African gallery features extraordinary examples of African design, sculptures whose form is influenced both by practical need and by material and aesthetic qualities.

Covered with thousands of glass beads in intricate patterns, a Yoruba king’s V-neck tunic adds new depth to the Museum’s collection of African art.