Kota reliquaries were once ancestral guardians in Central Africa, holding baskets with their bowed arms that cradled bones, their benevolent bodies carved from wood and wrapped in formed metal. Kota: Digital Excavations in African Art — which opens October 16 at the Pulitzer Arts Foundation in St. Louis — is the first exhibition to focus on them in-depth, and involves a digital experience where visitors discover forgotten patterns and connections in the faded art.
Most of the reliquaries were made between the 17th to 20th centuries and their creation was halted by colonialism, especially when foreign missionaries in the 1930s exerted their control in today’s Republic of Congo and Gabon. The “digital excavation” into their lost history is a project by Belgian computer scientist Frederic Cloth, who developed a database of surviving Kota reliquaries, included in the exhibition as the Kota Data Cloud designed by Rampant Interactive.
“There’s a lot of missing information, and we don’t really know as much about these objects as we’d want, about the makers, and when they were collected,” Cara Starke, director of Pulitzer Arts Foundation, told Hyperallergic. “For 15 to 20 years [Cloth] has been collecting data on these Kota, including hand-drawing all the extant ones, which is about 2,000.”
Kota includes 50 reliquaries on loan from various collections. Cloth co-curated the exhibition with former Pulitzer director Kristina Van Dyke, and the digital and physical experiences are meant to intertwine, harnessing computer science as a new way to interpret the reliquaries.
“Our show is trying to both offer the opportunity to experience and look at these Kota, and also understand the methodologies that [Cloth] went through,” Starke said. She explained that on the Kota Data Cloud, visitors can make their own groupings of Kota with a touchscreen, maybe putting those together with circular eyes, or corralling those with rectangular ears. “It’s getting people to think about and look at this level of detail when they go back into the show,” she said.
The Kota Data Cloud and its underlying research have revealed some previous unknowns about the Kota, such as a one-to-two ratio of male and female figures, suggesting they were meant to be assembled in groups of three. Analysis of style evolutions has indicated artist workshops that may have stretched over generations. Kota is the first public demonstration of the database, presented in a digital experience by Rampant Interactive, a software and gaming studio, which will have a five-month residency at the Pulitzer during the exhibition. Along with the Kota Data Cloud, another Rampant Interactive experience called the Kota Protolab invites visitors to form their own digital reliquaries that can be 3D printed.
Each reliquary stands between eight and 30 inches tall — though the bone baskets mostly no longer exist, although one is included in the show — and Kota treats each as an individual, inviting visitors to delve into their history as ritualistic spiritual artifacts, and the artistic tradition behind their centuries of creation.
“From my perspective, the hope is that when someone walks away, it heightens their ability to look at these objects and focus in on things like the shape of the eyes, that there is a necklace on another,” Starke said. “It’s not getting into material things like wood and the metal, but is very much about looking.”
Kota: Digital Excavations in African Art is October 16, 2015 to March 19, 2016 at the Pulitzer Arts Foundation (3716 Washington Boulevard, St. Louis).
Your list of must-see, fun, insightful, and very New York art events this month, including Lee Lozano, Cindy Sherman, Tokuko Ushioda, Anas Albraehe, and more.
The art establishment was never quite sure what to do with a self-taught artist like Basquiat, who owed as much to bebop and William S. Burroughs’s cut-up technique as he did to African influences.
International audiences have free access to the media collections of MMCA Korea, Sharjah Art Foundation, and ArkDes through this subscription-based art streaming platform.
Kadish’s fossil-like heads, forms, and figures remind us that every civilization, including our own, eventually collapses.
In every role she held, Vendryes advocated for marginalized people and celebrated the cultural contributions of the Black and queer communities.
Convened by Erika Sprey, Lamin Fofana, Sky Hopinka, Emmy Catedral, and Manuela Moscoso, the public program unfolds this summer at CARA in New York City.
Stanton, who died of AIDS complications in 1984, left behind an engaging body of work, a moving tribute to a bygone generation of creative minds.
Baz Luhrmann’s film Elvis and Danny Boyle’s miniseries Pistol are both overly fixated on the influence their respective musicians’ managers had on them.
The Bay Area art book fair is back this July with free programming at three different on-site venues, new exhibitors, and fundraising editions from renowned artists.
In the wake of the Roe v. Wade decision, arts workers and reproductive rights organizations are collaborating on educational resources for accessing safe procedures.
The couple launched the Futureverse Foundation, a grantmaking organization that aims to “help keep the metaverse widely accessible.”
The museum’s “pay-what-you-wish” policy will remain in place for New York State residents and tri-state students, but out-of-state adults will pay $5 extra.