Currently on View in Eiteljorg Suite of African and Oceanic Art (W304)
These figures represent founding ancestors and in former times were placed as guardians on basketry, bark or fiber containers, which held skulls and other bones of important family ancestors. These reliquaries were sometimes carried about during initiations and other ceremonies. They served as protection against evil forces and assisted in appeals to the spirit world for aid.
Kota figures are carved from a single piece of wood, then covered with sheets and strips of brass and copper. These figures are flat images composed of abstract, geometric forms. The characteristically oval face is bordered by projecting elements, which probably represent hairstyles. The "body” takes the form of a diamond-shaped support.
Kota figures were among the earliest African sculptures to influence European artists about a hundred years ago. Even the work of Pablo Picasso was directly influenced by Kota guardian figures.