Mbulu Ngulu, Reliquary Figure
Unidentified Kota-Obamba maker
Wood, brass, copper, bone, and iron staples
Overall: 17 1/4 × 6 9/16 in. (43.8 × 16.7 cm)
Hood Museum of Art, Dartmouth: Purchased through the William B. Jaffe and Evelyn A. Jaffe Hall Fund, and the Julia L. Whittier Fund
Place Made: Eastern Gabon region, Gabon, Central Africa, Africa
Not on view
The Kota people placed reliquaries such as this one atop baskets containing skulls of their ancestors to serve as guardians of these important relics. Notice how the intricate metal work creates an abstract, glinting, human form suggesting a powerful founding ancestor. The figure’s keepers polished it with sand to maintain the shine of the brass and copper. Imagine this act of devotion and the power this figure represented to the family.
These reliquaries were not inherently sacred; rather, they represented the power of the ancestral bones they guarded, the actual sacred objects. The ancestors’ remains were venerated for their power to bring good fortune to the family and exercise influence as they had in life. When families migrated, they brought the bones along, but the reliquaries were often left behind. How might the relationship between these objects, removed from their original purpose, evoke an element of pilgrimage?
From the 2022 exhibition A Space for Dialogue 108, Journeys Beyond: Faces and Forms of Pilgrimage, curated by Emily Charland '19, Erbe Intern
A Space for Dialogue 108, Journeys Beyond: Faces and Forms of Pilgrimage, Alvin P. Gutman Gallery, Hood Museum of Art, Dartmouth College, Hanover New Hampshire, August 27 - October 22, 2022.
Anthropology of Religion, Harrington Gallery Teaching Exhibition, Anthropology 48, Hood Museum of Art, Dartmouth College, Hanover, New Hampshire, March 30-May 2, 2004.
Art That Lives? Exploring Figural Art from Africa, Allvin P. Gutman Gallery, Hood Museum of Art, Dartmouth College, Hanover, New Hampshire, July 25, 2009-July 2010.
Death and Dying: Selections from the Permanent Collection, Harrington Gallery Teaching Exhibition, Anthropology 55, Hood Museum of Art, Dartmouth College, Hanover, New Hampshire, February 11-March 26, 1995.
Peoples and Cultures of Africa, Anthropology 44, Harrington Gallery Teaching Exhibition, Hood Museum of Art, Dartmouth College, Hanover, New Hampshire, October 29-December 18, 1994.
Representations of the Body in Space from the Renaissance to the Present: Selections from the Permanent Collection, Harrington Gallery Teaching Exhibition, Art History 2, Hood Museum of Art, Dartmouth College, Hanover, New Hampshire, January 3-March 15, 1998.
Rebecca Bailey, What Is There to Teach About Art?, Dartmouth Alumni Magazine, Volume 88, Number 8, May 1996, South Burlington: The Lane Press Inc., 1996, pp.36-45, ill. p. 39
An Artist's-Eye View of Dealing with Death, Dartmouth Medicine, Volume 19, No. 4, Summer 1995, Lebanon: Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center, ill. p. 15 (review of Harrington Death and Dying exhibition, Anthro. 55, February 11 - March 26, 1995)
Alexander Bortolot, Art That Lives? Exploring Figural Art from Africa, Hood Mueum of Art, Hanover: Trustees of Dartmouth College, 2009, ill. p. 8, no. 2.
Ex. collection J.J. Klejman, about 1960; Unknown; Sotheby's, New York, New YOrk; sold to present collection, 1986.
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