Art/ Collection/ Art Object

Sculptural Element from a Reliquary Ensemble

19th–20th century
Gabon or Republic of Congo, Ivindo River region
Kota peoples, Mahongwe group
Brass, copper wire, wood
H. 20 3/4 x W. 8 1/4 x D. 3 5/8 in. (52.7 x 21 x 9.2 cm)
Credit Line:
The Michael C. Rockefeller Memorial Collection, Gift of Nelson A. Rockefeller, 1964
Accession Number:
On view at The Met Fifth Avenue in Gallery 352
In Kota communities of eastern Gabon, bark boxes or baskets containing a clan's relics were accompanied by symbolic ancestral representations known as bwete. Bwete are highly abstract, two-dimensional figurative wood sculptures whose surfaces are covered with carefully applied sheets and strips of copper or brass. The use of these metals was attractive to patrons aesthetically, for their tonal and reflective qualities, as well as for their regional associations with wealth. Kota migrations over the entire eastern part of Gabon and the region bordering the Congo to the south resulted in a rich diversity of stylistic interpretations of this multimedia sculptural tradition. For ritual purposes, bwete were arrayed in semidarkness within a small enclosure, sheltered from the gaze of onlookers.
Ollivary, until 1961; Nelson A. Rockefeller, New York, on loan to The Museum of Primitive Art, New York, 1961–1964; The Museum of Primitive Art, New York, 1964–1978

Siroto, Leon. "The Face of the Bwiiti." African Arts vol. 1, no. 3 (Spring 1968), pp. 22-27, 86-89, 96.

The Metropolitan Museum of Art. Art of Oceania, Africa, and the Americas from the Museum of Primitive Art. New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1969, no. 407.

Perrois, Louis. Le Bwété des Kota-Mahongwe du Gabon: Note sur les figures funéraires des populations du bassin de l'Ivindo. Libreville: Institut de Recherche pour le Developpement (ORSTOM), 1969.

The American Federation of Arts. Primitive Art Masterworks: an exhibition jointly organized by the Museum of Primitive Art and the American Federation of Arts, New York. New York: The American Federation of Arts, 1974, no. 84.

Perrois, Louis. "L'art Kota-Mahongwe." Arts d'Afrique Noire vol. 20 (Winter 1976), pp. 15–17.

Chaffin, Alain, and Françoise Chaffin. L'art Kota: Les igures de reliquaire. Meudon: Chaffin, 1979.

Herbert, Eugenia W. Red Gold of Africa: Copper in Precolonial History and Culture. Madison, WI: University of Wisconsin Press, 1984.

Falgayrettes-Leveau, Christiane, ed. Gabon: Présence des esprits. Paris: Musée Dapper, 2006.

LaGamma, Alisa, ed. Eternal Ancestors: The Art of the Central African Reliquary. New Haven and London: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 2007.

Perrois, Louis. Kota. Ancêtres = Ancestors. Paris and New York: Bernard Dulon, 2011.

Perrois, Louis. Kota. Milan: 5 Continents, 2012.

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