KOTA Ndassa reliquary figure

Gabon / Congo Wood, copper, alloy H. 47,5 cm
Late XIXth century



Olivier Perrier’s collection, Marseille
Plaza Art Galleries, New York, April 28th 1955, n° 204
Formerly in a private collection
Sotheby's, New York, November 29th 1984, n° 310
Formerly in Alain de Monbrison’s galery, Paris
Formerly in Hubert Goldet’s collection, Paris
Formerly in Daniel Hourdé’s collection, Paris
Formerly in Viviane Jutheau’s collection, Countess of Witt, July 1990

Anna Demina Collection, Milan


Arts d'Afrique Noire, n° 54, Summer 1985, p. 56
Gabon, Galerie Ratton, Paris, 2017, pp.52-53


Identified thanks to the work of Pastor Andersson, who lived in the Congo in the 1930s and 40s, the Kota Ndassa corpus differs from the "Southern Kota" productions in its lack of a topmost crest. Instead, the sculpture features a coiffure with dual rounded lobes, decorated with finely carved motifs, here in a crisscross pattern (Perrois, Kota, 2012, p. 69). "Like a carefully composed collage" the metal is carefully placed to evoke the face of the ancestor (LaGamma, Eternal Ancestors, The Art of the Central African Reliquary, 2007, No. 71, p. 242). The effect is amplified by the sheer power of the pared down forms, reduced to their essential lines, which illustrate both the highly personal vision of Kota Ndassa artists - and the concern with the individuality of the artist which is key to the entirety of the Viviane de Witt collection.
Within this rare and specific corpus, certain closely related works can be seen in museums like the ones in Musée Dapper or the Barnes Foundation (cf below).
Atop the reliquary basket where the remains of the illustrious departed of the lineage were kept, this mbulu ngulu effigy represents an ancestor that it symbolically evokes and honours. The domed forehead, marked by an axial crest, highlights the face, the "heart-shape" of which is delineated by the brow ridges. The concave-convex face is individualized through the wide almond-shaped eyes with pupils studded with metallic nails, and a small open mouth, lips parted to reveal rows of sharp teeth. Drawing from Kota traditions and from aesthetic solutions specific to the Ndassa style, the artist has created a work which combines power and majesty. The reinvented naturalism of the figure is enhanced by the abstract rigour of the pictorial decor and the chromatic contrasts of the various metals used (brass, copper and iron). The thick base, with its diamond-shaped opening, enhances the visual impact of the head. The beautiful dark patina of the base and the back of the figure attest to the great age of this sculpture.