Following exhibition at J. B. Neumann’s New Art Circle gallery, 105 works from the Blondiau-Theatre Arts Collection traveled to the Art Institute of Chicago as part of “The Negro in Art Week.” This citywide event, organized by the Chicago Woman’s Club, included a “comprehensive program showing the progress of the Negro in art dating from the primitive to the modern, and covering literature, sculpture, painting, music and the applied arts.”
The cover of the accompanying catalogue, included in the exhibition, was created by the prominent African American illustrator and painter Charles C. Dawson, and summarizes the event’s wide-ranging program. It features an oversized Egyptian pharaoh looming over a group of tuxedo-wearing, silhouetted musicians and, at the lower right, this Songye power figure from the Blondiau-Theatre Arts Collection.
A Songye nganga, or religious specialist, endowed this Songye power figure with spiritual powers by placing symbolic substances—animal, vegetable, and mineral—into its abdomen, and by attaching or inserting sculpted pieces of ivory and teeth into its head, forehead, and shoulders. Such actions transformed the figure into a vessel of power.