Hemba Figure

Archives | Democratic Republic of the Congo

Hemba Figure

Democratic Republic of the Congo

Carved wood
Late 19th or early 20th century
Height: 22 ¾ in.(58 cm)

Ex collection Egon Guenther, Johannesburg
(acquired in Brussels between 1968 and 1971)
Ex Sotheby’s, New York, 17 May 2002, Lot 164
Ex collection Edward Albee, Montauk, New York

Sold
As stated by François Neyt in the reference book « La grande statuaire Hemba du Zaïre » (1977), Hemba ancestor effigies aimed at commemorating the memory of important chiefs. The concept of lineage protection and survival played a central role in Hemba religious practices. "The Hemba clans, relatively independent of each other, had their own history. Their family trees dating back to eight, ten, or even fifteen generations were perfectly known, and were essential in particular to justify the ownership of the soil" (Neyt, p. 25).
Hemba ancestor figures were genealogy markers as well as protectors for the chief and members of his clan.
In terms of provenance, this figure was acquired in Brussels between 1968 and 1971 by Egon Guenther (1921-2015), a famous South African collector. This Hemba figure was subsequently sold by Sotheby's New York (May 17, 2002, lot 164) to American playwright Edward Albee (1928-2016), who kept it until the end of his life in his Tribeca loft in New York. The latter, author of "Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolfe?" was an important patron and collector of art all his life.

This Hemba male figure depicts a dignified ancestor figure. It has a perfect balance and conveys an intense sense of interiority and sacredness.
The deep patina and superb surface are remarkable.

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