This sculpture of a serene kneeling woman was made by the Kuba people. She is long in the trunk, with comparatively small, slim limbs and a large head. She is wearing a decorated skirt and what appears to be a band around her middle, but is otherwise naked. As is traditional for that group, the piece is highly detailed. The hair is hatched in with considerable care, while the tassels and other design work on the skirt are also picked out with great delicacy. The back of the head and the neck are decorated incised lines denoting scarifications, which are replicated on each cheekbone. The figure has a considerable gloss from handling and age.
The Kuba are a large tribe comprised of various smaller entities that are quasi-autonomous within the Kuba polity but are related genetically and artistically. Their social systems are headed by the “Mushenge” who are responsible for the spiritual and material wealth of the populace. The kingdom was founded in the early 17th century by a major leader named Shyaam a-Mbul a Ngoong-Shyaam, who exploited trade networks and became very wealthy. Kuba religion is based upon a creator god named MBoom, while more immediate concerns were dealt with by a being named Woot; the Kuba are thus also known as the Children of Woot.
Kuba art is often extremely ornate and varied, and tends to revolve around courtly regalia. Their large wood sculptures – including Ndop king sculptures – have an apotropaic function. Many pieces are decorated with cowrie shells, linear motifs and Tukula/twool (red camwood powder). They decorate utilitarian objects to such an extent that they have been described as a people who cannot bear to leave a surface without ornament. They are perhaps best known for their boxes (ngedi mu ntey) and palm wine cups, which were used as markers of status in the royal courts.
This figure probably represents a queen or other high-ranking personage. It is an attractive and impressive piece of African art.