The Hemba created a type of sculpture (called singitl) that was made to honor important departed ancestors. These figures are idealized portraits of specific individuals and were housed in special shrines where they were worshiped and fed offerings so that the living could tap the strong supernatural powers of the dead. The style is very distinctive, the heads having an almost egglike shape with curved eyebrows and aquiline features, giving the figures an aloof expression.
Artist Hemba, African
  • Ancestor Figure
Date between late 19th and early 20th century
Medium Wood
Dimensions Overall: 30 3/8 × 8 × 8 5/8 inches (77.2 × 20.3 × 21.9 cm)
Including base: 33 1/8 × 8 7/8 × 9 3/8 inches (84.1 × 22.5 × 23.8 cm)
Credit Line Gift of Mr. And Mrs. Andre Nasser
Accession Number 1986.54
Department Africa, Oceania & Indigenous Americas
On View African N101, Level 1 (see map)
Mr. And Mrs. Andre Nasser (New York, New York, USA);
1986-present, gift to the Detroit Institute of Arts (Detroit, Michigan, USA)
African Masterworks In The Detroit Institute of Arts. Washington and London: The Detroit Institute of Arts and Smithsonian Institution Press, 1995, cat. no. 68.