Guardian Figure
Mbulu Ngulu
Kota, Gabon
Middle of 19th cent.

Wood, copper, brass, iron
32 cm


Collection Henri Kamer (1937 -1992), New York
Collection Daniel Hourdé, Paris, 1992, acquired from the above Collection John Dintenfass, New York, 1998, acquired from the above
Anna Demina Collection, Milan


Bruxelles Non European Art Fair- Bruneaf XXII, Catalogue, 2012, pp. 44-45

Origins, A Vision on African Art, Dalton Somaré Gallery, Milan, 2019, pp. 30/33


Parcours des Mondes, Les Salon International des Arts Premiers, Paris, 2013

“CULTURES, The World Art Fair”, Bruxelles, June 2018
AMART, Palazzo della Permanente, Milano, May 2018


The cult of the guardian figures, active since the second half of XIX century, quickly declined and degenerated during the first decades of the XX century, under the pressure of the Christians missionaries, that lead to the complete abandon of the traditional funerary customs.
It is this cultural crisis that made saleable and accessible these guardian figures which were before sacred and inalienable, as they were the source of the identity and cohesion of the clan and of their everlasting perpetration.
The Guardian Figures received periodically offers during ceremonies which preceded hunting parties or during the feast at the end of the harvesting season and anyway, more in general, before any enterprise that might require the wisdom and the immortal strength of the illustrious ancestors.
These frontal figures express their great cultural importance also through the cautious choice of specific materials for their creation as they were made fixing on a wooden core precious metal leafs. In fact the practise of cover them of brass or copper leafs is directly linked with the symbolic value given by the tribes residents in Gabon to these metal materials, extremely rare in the area and in most of the cases obtained with onerous commercial exchanges with Portuguese merchants.
The first figures appeared in Europe after the journey of Savorgnan de Brazza along the Ivindo river in 1887 (Fig. 1) and they immediately attracted the attention of artists and art lovers, stricken by the dynamism, the vigour and the abstract forms of these bidimensional figures.