Bembe Standing Janus Figure on Custom Stand Congo
Bembe African art refers to the art produced by the Bembe people, an ethnic group located in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Tanzania, and Burundi. The Bembe have a rich artistic tradition that includes sculpture, mask-making, and other forms of visual art.
The Bembe form a small group of 60 to 80,000 people; they live on the plateaus situated to the north of the Zaire River, as well as on the shores of Stanley Pool and in the cities of Brazzaville, Dolisie, and Pointe-Noire.
The Bembe had close contacts with their neighbors the Teke, but Kongo contributions were essential to their culture and traditions. Their social organization was based on the matrimonial clan, whose members could live in several villages. The family unit generally included three generations. The chief in charge of the village, the nga-bula, mediated with the ancestors.
Hunting was the main activity; before leaving on a hunt, the leader would invoke the ancestral spirits, using as intermediaries statuettes kneeling in the position of a hunter waiting for his prey. The Bembe believed in a creator god, Nzambi, whom they did not depict figuratively. He was the master of the life and death ‚Äì unless the latter was due to the act of a sorcerer, ndoki, who could magically ‚Äúeat‚Äù the life force of clan members. The ancestors had close ties with the living and received offerings through the ‚Äúpriest,‚Äù who made appeals to statuettes, the kitebi or bimbi, consecrated by the sorcerer. These figurines were the idealized images of the ancestors and would often wear attributes that allowed them to be identified as medicine men or hunters. The ancestor worship among the Bembe is older, though, and precedes the use of magic statues, nkisi, by the sorcerers.
One of the most striking aspects of Bembe art is its emphasis on the human form. Bembe sculptures often depict human figures with exaggerated features, such as elongated limbs and distorted faces. These figures are typically carved from wood and decorated with intricate patterns and designs.
Bembe mask-making is also an important aspect of their artistic tradition. Bembe masks are often used in ceremonial contexts, such as funerals, initiation rites, and other important cultural events. These masks are typically made from wood and decorated with beads, shells, and other materials. They often feature intricate designs and patterns, and may also include representations of animals or other figures.
In addition to their visual art, the Bembe are also known for their music and dance. Bembe music is characterized by its use of percussion instruments, such as drums and rattles, and its emphasis on rhythm and improvisation. Bembe dance is often performed in conjunction with music, and is characterized by its energetic and expressive movements.
Overall, Bembe African art reflects the rich cultural heritage of the Bembe people. It is an important part of their identity and has been passed down through generations as a way of preserving their traditions and beliefs.
From the Collection of Robert Pearson, Denver, Colorado
Bob Pearson began collecting African art later in his life.¬†¬†He was an engineer, inveterate climber, and long-time collector of books and paintings.¬†¬†Spurred by the Douglas Society at the Denver Museum of Art, and his friendship with noted collector George Heggarty, he began building an enormous, eclectic collection. His African art library grew to several hundred books.¬†¬†He loved textiles and ‚Äúmaterial culture‚Äù-things which had domestic use, like spoons, cups, stools, and chairs, as well as masks and carvings.¬†¬†His collection included items from more than thirty African countries, and his fine eye gave him pieces ranging from a golddust scale to huge Dogon figural ladders.¬†¬†Africa Direct is honored to have been chosen to sell them.
Approximate Age: 20th Century