The female form is a crucial focus of Luba art. In Luba culture, only women who can bear children are believed to be capable of containing powerful spirits. For this reason, objects with images of women tend to be owned by noble men. In a political context, the female form has enormous meaning because of the critical importance of the female line in royal descent. Luba women also play a distinct role as guardians of the deep secrets pertaining to kingship power; indeed, the Luba say that women protect the secrets and taboos of royalty within their breasts. The elaborate keloidal scars on this figure’s torso are marks of beauty. The aesthetic refinement of the female body through elaborate skin ornamentation serves as a metaphor for the civilization that Luba rulers disseminate within society. This is one of only a handful of known Luba freestanding sculptures.

From Bulletin of the Detroit Institute of Arts 89 (2015)
Artist Luba, African
  • Female figure
Date 19th century
Medium wood and varnish
Dimensions Overall (height approx): 13 inches (33 cm)
Credit Line Museum Purchase, Robert H. Tannahill Fund
Accession Number 2014.34
Department Africa, Oceania & Indigenous Americas
Not On View
(Bernard de Grunne, Brussels, Belgium; Donald Morris Gallery, Inc., Birmingham, Michigan, USA);
2014-present, purchase by the Detroit Institute of Arts (Detroit, Michigan, USA)