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HOME : African & Tribal Art : Kota : Kota Reliquary Figure
Kota Reliquary Figure - PH.0296
Origin: Gabon
Circa: 20 th Century AD
Dimensions: 24" (61.0cm) high x 11.5" (29.2cm) wide
Medium: Brass Plaited Wood

Location: United States
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This piece is a distinct example of the Kota art tradition, which includes a long, oval-shaped face with large, circular eyes and a triangular nose. The surface also sometimes includes decorative striations or geometric patterns, which can be seen on this piece.

Almost all Kota pieces are rare as many traditional practices – including masquerades and the reliquary system – have been either suppressed or have gone out of fashion. To compound matters, many older items were intentionally destroyed in the 1940s to 1960s by the “Culte de Demoiselles”, who went out of their way to destroy traditional culture in an attempt to mimic western lifestyles.

The Kota live in Eastern Gabon, and are comprised of various subunits including Ndambomo, Mahongwe, Ikota-la- hua, Sake, Menzambi and Bougom, some of which can also be differentiated artistically. Their society is largely egalitarian and gerontocratic, their economy based upon hunting and agriculture. Their relaxed social structure reflects their previous mobility – they moved into the area from the North during the 18th century – which is also perhaps the cause behind their unusual mortuary rituals in which they were basically able to take their ancestors with them wherever they went.

The Kota originally exposed their dead, but started to bury them following influence from neighbouring groups. The remains (especially skulls) of prominent personages were then exhumed and placed into baskets (Bwete), which were defended by carved figures decorated with metal plates or wire. A figure such as this one would sit on top of the reliquary as a means of protection. These figures diversified according to the geographical distribution of the subgroups—together they are among the most famous and recognizable symbols of African art. Their radical deconstruction of the human form is fascinating to historians of African art and had an enormous influence on the 20th century development of Western art styles. - (PH.0296)


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