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The Perls figure, based on its scale of nearly a meter tall, was carved as a community healing figure or nkisi, among the Songye. These tall figures were created to alleviate any host of problems which may have besot the village. Compared to their neighbors, the Hemba, Luluwa or Luba, whose art is defined by elegant lines and a sort of idealized naturalism, the Songye favor powerful expressionism. The activity of carving itself, however, was consider profane, and without many strictly proscribed aesthetic requirements allowed for invention and idiosyncracy among the figures. The power and transformation of the figure came from the application of magical substances by the healer, or nganga. Coating the figure in palm oil potions and filling the abdomen and the head with obscure, exotic and potent substances charged the figure to the greatest measure of its efficacy (Hersak, Songye, London, 1985, pp. 144, 168-169).
In the Perls figure, the power is clear. It balances the raw and the elegant in its tall, symmetrical frontality, favored among the Songye as social trait signifying dignity and strength, with a brut force in its slender form and expansive skull-like head. The patina varies strongly at the waist where a cloth was once applied. The skin seems to melt in the layers of oils and together with the parted lips, the figure retains a lively tension.
See Dumouchelle, Power Incarnate, 2011, p. 61, no. 38 for a related figure from the Allan Stone collection.