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Sculptural Element from a Reliquary Ensemble

Date:
19th–20th century
Geography:
Gabon or Republic of Congo, Ivindo River region
Culture:
Kota peoples, Mahongwe group
Medium:
Brass, copper wire, wood
Dimensions:
H. 20 3/4 x W. 8 1/4 x D. 3 5/8 in. (52.7 x 21 x 9.2 cm)
Classification:
Metal-Sculpture
Credit Line:
The Michael C. Rockefeller Memorial Collection, Gift of Nelson A. Rockefeller, 1964
Accession Number:
1978.412.434
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

Art of Oceania, Africa, and the Americas from the Museum of Primitive Art. New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1969, 407.



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