Friday, November 14, 2008


For African art amateurs, the period might be the right one. Prices are going down big time and rarely beat the estimate. This very lovely Kota reliquary figure from the Robert and Jean Shoenberg collection was sold on the 14th of November 2008 in New York, Rockefeller Plaza, for only $ 22,500 vs. an estimate of 30,000 - 40,000. A steal as would say my real estate agent.

This figure is mainly in brass and was initially property of Julius Carlebach, New York, since 1955. Personally I moderately like African and Oceanic Art and I have the greatest reserve as far as the provenance is concerned. In that case we know that this figure originated in Gabon and is a product of the famous Kota tribe.

The Kota tribe who comprises about 75,000 people created stylistically unique reliquary figures, called mbulu-ngulu, which are covered with a sheet of brass or copper. Like the Fang, the Kota keep the skulls and bones of ancestors in containers, which consist here of a basket surmounted by the carved figure. A mbulu-ngulu is a tomb figure of carved wood covered with a sheet of copper or brass, created by the Kota to protect the dead. Its traditional function, as a guardian figure standing against a wall, had a direct influence upon its form.

The Kota arrived in their current location in Gabon after completing a series of migrations that started to the northeast, possibly near Sudan. These migrations began in the 18th century and were underway when European contact was first made about 150 years later.

Having said that, on a purely investing viewpoint, such figures which are extremely rare are really a bargain at 22,500 dollars.
Christian missionaries who entered the area in the early 1900s converted many of the Kota peoples. As a result, many of the art objects associated with their traditional religion were destroyed, buried, or in some cases thrown down wells.

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