Thompson, Robert Farris.
"Bighearted Power: Kongo Presence in the Landscape and Art of Black America,"
in Gundacker, ed., Keep Your Head to the Sky: Interpreting African American
Home Ground, 1998, 37-64.
is a reference to the vital spiritual qualities that Robert Farris Thompson
sees in African American art. Addressing the alternative tradition of
visual arts developed by African American slaves and their descendants in the
United States, Thompson analyzes visual stratagems for protecting the house
and yard, using material writing systems as examples of African American art.
He posits an idea of "metaphorical communication," in which sound and other
sensual forms are translated into the material/visual dimension. Items such
as the wheel, tire, and hubcap ornaments that decorate some African American
yards are circular symbols representative of Kongolese notions of time and the
immortal journey of the soul. (These forms are of roughly the same significance
as interpretations of African American dance kinesics and black musical structure.)
This correspondence of the African American yard and 'metaphorical communication'
shows with minikisi -- healing charms (singular: nkisi) from Kongo
and Angola used in material communication with the spirits. These charms have
both the "power to give and take back," and to "greet and to defend" in a way
that mirrors the circular notions of time expressed in the wheel ornaments described
above. Yard displays feature a myriad of local and contemporary objects that
serve the same purpose as traditional African minikisi (rocks, mirrors,
jars or vessels, motion emblems, cosmograms, flowers, herbs, root sculptures,
found images, dolls, plaster sculptures, stuffed animals, shiny bottles, tinfoil,
bones of animals, etc.) These are placed with care to create the desired spiritual
messages and to give visual pleasure to the community. [H. Nasstrom Evans.]