Art/ Collection/ Art Object

Figure: Janus (Bocio)

Date:
19th–early 20th century
Geography:
Republic of Benin
Culture:
Fon peoples
Medium:
Wood, bone, metal wire, sacrificial materials
Dimensions:
H. 19 1/2 x W. 5 3/4 x D. 5 5/8 in. (49.5 x 14.6 x 14.3 cm)
Classification:
Wood-Sculpture
Credit Line:
Purchase, Denise and Andrew Saul Philanthropic Fund Gift, 1984
Accession Number:
1984.190
On view at The Met Fifth Avenue in Gallery 352
This janus figure crowned by a dog's skull powerfully embodies notions of guardianship and surveillance. Such works, known as bocio, are prescribed by Fon priests and diviners to promote their clients' well being. They can be designed for such purposes as influencing the weather, detecting thieves, or shielding one's family from sorcery. Most bocio are proactive defensive mechanisms commissioned by individuals to eliminate agents before they can cause harm. They serve as surrogates for the people who commission them, functioning as decoys and deflecting imminent danger. Positioned along paths, roads, agricultural fields, and near domestic compounds as well as inside homes and shrines, bocio operate at the crossroads between the spiritual and the human realms.
Collected in Dahomey by Jacques Kerchache, Paris, late 1950s–1960s; [Ben Heller, New York, 1960s–1984]

Newton, Douglas, Julie Jones, and Kate Ezra. Notable Acquisitions (Metropolitan Museum of Art) (1983–1984), pp. 113–118.

LaGamma, Alisa. Art and Oracle: African Art and Rituals of Divination. New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 2000, no. 40, pp. 64-65.

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