Much rarer are the characteristics that classify this work as unique, or a unique survival: the dramatic overall form of the figure, with a lozenge comprised of kinetically-bowed lines and terminating in a downward-pointed conical knob, reminiscent of a drop of water. Narrow openwork separates the crescent from the top of the head; and the back of the figure bears an echo of the lozenge form in fine diamond motif, with the center deeply carved.
This charming sculpture was selected for the landmark exhibition Eternal Ancestors: the Art of the Central African Reliquary, held at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, 2007-2008. In the accompanying catalogue, Alisa LaGamma noted: "This elegant creation features crisp contours underscored with double rows of incised dots. At its core is an especially elongated convex forehead encased in brass and bisected by a narrow copper band stretching from its apex to the tip of the nose. The facial features are concentrated in a heart-shaped configuration at the base of the head. Stippled bands accent the curve of the brow and the horizontal apertures of the eyes and mouth. The tips of the horizontal crescent extend downward to connect with the triangular projections at the sides of the face. A narrow sliver of negative space is exposed at their interstices. The representation is delicately balanced at the base by the openwork lozenge. Associated with fertility, that motif is repeated prominently on the reverse side of the head, where it appears as an abstract design carved in relief" (LaGamma, Eternal Ancestors, 2007, p. 240).
Overall the style is most closely associated with those of the Southern Kota regions. As Perrois notes: "Rare though they are, the works of the Southern Kota (Obamba and Wumbu) caught the attention of the discoverers of 'Art Nègre' in the 1920s, perhaps on account of their noticeably more 'cubist' appearance than other objects in French Congo." (Perrois, Kota, 2012, p. 150).
In its exceptional stylistic character, its lyrical headdress, and its distinctive stippling design, the present work relates closely to a famous Kota figure with round eyes in the Barbier-Mueller collection (see Perrois, Art ancestral du Gabon, 1985, cover), which also bears a raised diamond motif on the reverse.
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