This hardwood face was designed and constructed by the Kota People of the Gabonese Republic. Such a “sculptural element” was typically housed in the residence of a Kota clan leader, and along with other “elements” of the ensemble, offered protection from harm. The metal’s luminous quality symbolizes the surface of an ocean or river at morning’s sunlight, “and hence was considered conducive to communication with a supernatural realm believed to exist beneath or beyond a body of water.” Beginning in the early 20th century, avant-garde artists—including Europeans such as Pablo Picasso, Fernand Léger and Paul Klee, Americans such as Alfred Stieglitz, and Africans such as Ernest Mancoba—widely collected and drew inspiration from Kota art” (Cohen 2017).
Joshua I. Cohen, 2017. “Sculptural Element from a Reliquary Ensemble: Kota People, Mahongwe Group.” New York: Metropolitan Museum of Art Catalog.