Defense Date


Document Type


Degree Name

Master of Arts


Art History

First Advisor

Babatunde Lawal


Minkisi (sing. nkisi) were sacred objects that housed ancestral spirits and were used for divination, healing and social justice by the Kongo people of Central Africa. When the Kongo were brought as slaves to the New World, they contributed significantly to the development of African American artistic and spiritual culture. In the Caribbean, aspects of minkisi have been retained in the creolized spiritual beliefs of Haitian Vodou, Cuban Palo Monte Mayombe and Brazilian Candomble. In North America, evidence of Kongo influence is apparent in examples of folk art and culture, including quilts, mojo hands, Afro-Carolinian face vessels, memory jugs and burial sites. In the twentieth and twenty-first centuries, artists appear to have recontextualized elements of minkisi within their work, among these James “Son Ford” Thomas, James Van Der Zee, Betye and Alison Saar, Willie Cole and Renee Stout, creating a link between the Kongo past and the American present.


© The Author

Is Part Of

VCU University Archives

Is Part Of

VCU Theses and Dissertations

Date of Submission

May 2010