Janus reliquary guardian figure

Attributed to

Semangoy of Zokolunga

Kota peoples, Obamba group
late 19th or early 20th century
more object details

General Description

This janus, or bi-faced, reliquary guardian figure is one of the most abstract depictions of the human figure in African art. Its facial features are minimized, and its body is reduced to a diamond-shaped lozenge. The flared crescent above its head represents a headdress, and cylindrical ear ornaments hang beneath the coiffure. The figure was carved from a single piece of wood and is decorated with expensive iron, copper, and brass acquired through trade with Europeans.

The two faces of janus reliquary guardians and their respective headdress decorations are different: one side is concave and the other is convex. Whether the two sides symbolize male and female, past and future, or life and death is not known.

Sacred relics of esteemed ancestors were preserved in woven baskets in the belief that the extraordinary powers of certain ancestors survived after their death and could be accessed by their descendants during a crisis.

Excerpt from

Roslyn A. Walker, Label text, Arts of Africa, 2015.

Web Resources

BBC Front Row
See an image of this figure as it was displayed when in the collection of the artist Arman (1928-2005).