Art/ Collection/ Art Object

Deity Figure (Zemí)

Dominican Republic (?), Caribbean
Wood (Guaiacum sp.), shell
H. 27 x W. 8 5/8 x D. 9 1/8 in. (68.5 x 21.9 x 23.2cm)
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 358
The Taino peoples of the Greater Antilles—the islands of Cuba, Hispaniola, Puerto Rico, and Jamaica—produced the most distinctive works of art of all of the Caribbean islands during Precolumbian times. Highly individual forms such as the ritual objects known as "zemis," or idols, were made of stone or wood in different sizes and shapes. The zemis could be named and personally owned, and they were dressed and fed on special occasions. Zemis such as this one in the shape of a crouched, emaciated human figure with a platelike form on the top of the head are thought to have been used in ceremonies that included the taking of hallucinogenic snuff, or "cohoba." The snuff was placed on top of the zemi and inhaled through small tubes into the nostrils. The altered states of consciousness induced by the snuff were important to divination and curing rituals, among others.
#1612. Deity Figure (Zemí)
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Edna Dakeyne, London, mid-1930s–1955; Nelson A. Rockefeller, New York, 1955, on loan to The Museum of Primitive Art, New York, 1956–1978

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, no. 537.

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. 23.

Newton, Douglas. Masterpieces of Primitive Art: The Nelson A. Rockefeller Collection. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1978, p. 159.

Newton, Douglas, Julie Jones, and Kate Ezra. The Pacific Islands, Africa, and the Americas/The Metropolitan Museum of Art. New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1987, no. 97, pp. 132–3.

Paz, Octavio. Art millénaire des Amériques de la découverte a l'admiration, 1492–1992. Paris: Arthaud, 1992, p. 39, fig. 15.

Kerchache, Jacques, and Christian Duverger. "L'art Taíno-- les grandes Antilles precolombiennes." Connaissance des Arts (Special Issue) vol. 50 (1994), pp. 25, 26.

Avec les Indiens Taínos: Chlidren's guide no. 5. Paris: Musée du Petit Palais, 1994, cover.

Ostapkowicz, Joanna, Alex Wiedenhoeft, Christopher Bronk Ramsey, Erika Ribechini, Samuel Wilson, Fiona Brock, and Tom Higham. "'Treasures...of black wood, brilliantly polished': Five examples of Taíno sculpture from the tenth–sixteenth century Caribbean." Antiquity vol. 85 (2011), p. 945, fig. 2.

LaGamma, Alisa. "The Nelson Rockefeller Vision: In Pursuit of the Best in the Arts of Africa, Oceania, and the Americas." The Metropolitan Museum of Art Bulletin vol. 72 (2014), p. 6.

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