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Chief’s Chair (Ngunja)

One of the most easily recognizable forms in African art is the chief’s chair of the Chokwe peoples, who originated in central Angola, but, over the course of the last two centuries, have spread into southwestern Democratic Republic of the Congo and western Zambia. In the hands of skillful Chokwe carvers, a seventeenth-century Portuguese chair type became inspiration for a distinctive form of chief’s chair that was an important part of Chokwe leadership arts from around 1885, the height of Chokwe expansion, until the 1930s, when use of the chairs ended. Carvings fill the backs, legs, and stretchers, representing scenes from history and daily life as well as metaphors for ideas and beliefs.

Chokwe peoples, Democratic Republic of the Congo/Angola
Chief’s Chair (Ngunja)
1885–1930
Wood, antelope hide, brass
H. 31 ¼ in. (79.3 cm)
Sidney and Lois Eskenazi Museum of Art, 76.54