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Reliquary Guardian Figure (Eyema-o-Byeri)

Arts of Africa

On View: American Art Galleries, 5th Floor, Beyond Borders and Boundaries, 20th and 21st Centuries
In this Fang reliquary figure, the male form is reduced to basic shapes—cylinders and circles—echoing the cylindrical reliquary box on which the figure sat. It demonstrates a distinctly different approach to the human form than the Western tradition of naturalism. The artist has accentuated some parts of the body over others, invoking Fang ideas about showing the connection between death and rebirth by combining infantile forms with more mature characteristics.
MEDIUM Wood, iron
  • Place Made: Gabon
  • DATES mid-18th to mid-19th century
    DIMENSIONS 23 × 5 3/4 × 5 in. (58.4 × 14.6 × 12.7 cm)
    COLLECTIONS Arts of Africa
    ACCESSION NUMBER 51.3
    CREDIT LINE Frank L. Babbott Fund
    CATALOGUE DESCRIPTION The object is a male ancestor figure carved from a single piece of wood wearing a thick copper alloy necklace. The figure was probably attached to a skull basket that was used in connection with ancestor worship. The object is in fair condition. It has several deep splits. One particular split runs from the left side of the buttock, up the spine, over the head, and into the forehead. There is another deep split on the back side of the head. The front half of the proper right foot is missing. From an unknown cause, dry-rot settled on the bottom of the figure under the seat. The original surface is gone leaving a concave depression. The object was fumigated with carbon tetrachloride; the hole was filled with gesso, retouched, and waxed.
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