Art/ Collection/ Art Object

Sculptural Element from a Reliquary Ensemble

19th–20th century
Kota peoples
Brass, wood, ivory
H. 16 5/8 x W. 6 1/2 x D. 2 15/16 in. (42.2 x 16.5 x 7.4 cm)
Credit Line:
The Michael C. Rockefeller Memorial Collection, Bequest of Nelson A. Rockefeller, 1979
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.
[Henri Kamer, Paris and New York, until 1959]; Nelson A. Rockefeller, New York, 1959, on loan to The Museum of Primitive Art, New York, 1959–1978

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, 409.

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