The Collections Care and Conservation Department recently x-rayed an Nkisi figure donated to the Museum in 1935.
Often human or animal in form, these figures were used by people such as the Songye of southeastern Congo to protect villages, families or individuals from illness and witchcraft and to resolve disputes. Each figure acted as a vessel for ancestral or natural spiritual forces and their use was closely associated with the belief that the dead could influence the fortunes of the living.
Magical substances called ‘medicines’ were stored within the figures. These included clay, charcoal, seeds, animal matter, human hair and nails. Figures could also be adorned with beads, feathers, animal skins or metal nails which further enhanced their powers. The use of nails, often of European manufacture, has been linked to Christian concepts of sacrifice and martyrdom introduced by Portuguese missionaries who arrived in central Africa from the late fifteenth century onwards.
The use of x-ray techniques are important for conservators and curators as they can reveal features beneath the surface of an object that would otherwise remain concealed.
The x-ray of the Nkisi figure clearly shows the internal structure and reveals that in addition to a main stomach cavity, the figure has a secondary cavity (highlighted in the x-ray below) in the lower abdomen which is not externally visible. Both contain bundles of loose organic material. Further analysis is necessary to determine what this material is, but importantly the scan confirms that the figure was produced for ritual use rather than for sale / export – as became the case with many Nkisi figures produced in the 20th century.
For more information on x-raying objects, the Collections Care and Conservation Department are running behind the scenes tours on Saturday 28 September. Further details can be found here: http://www.bmag.org.uk/events?id=2878
Curator of World Cultures
On Saturday, 17 November 2012 The Staffordshire Hoard conservation team will host a special Open Day In the Conservation Department at Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery.
This is your chance to get behind the scenes and spend 1½ hours with hoard conservators looking at hoard objects under microscopes.
There will be a brief talk illustrating the find and contemporary and medieval metalworker Jamie Hall will demonstrate the ancient wire-making techniques used in the construction of the Hoard objects.
Hoard open day tickets are still available and you can choose to book on one of the three sessions starting at: 10:30am, 12:30pm and 2:30pm.
The price is £30 per person and you can book your tickets at BMAG’s online Box Office or ring 0121 303 1966.
Video of the Staffordshire Hoard Open Day that took place on December 3rd 2011.
You can read blogs by the conservators on their Hoard work and by Jamie Hall on Wire Making in the Hoard on the Staffordshire Hoard website.
The Open Day events are very popular and if you miss the chance to attend the open day, you can book a place on one of the guided tours of the Hoard Gallery and Conservation Studio, taking place on:
Wednesday 7 November and Wednesday 5 December.
Price: £20 per person
Buy tickets online or ring 0121 303 1966.
Funds raised from these events go directly toward conservation of the Staffordshire Hoard. Don’t miss this rare opportunity to discuss and observe objects up close and learn about ancient wire making techniques, while supporting the hoard conservation programme.
We hope to see you there!
The Hoard Conservation Team
Birmingham Museum & Art Gallery