Photos: Recreating religious art treasures from Africa

BARBARELLEN KOCH PHOTOS | A finished reliquary mask made at Saturday's East End Arts workshop.

Artist Daniel Brazil of Wading River offered a workshop in the creation on reliquary masks and figures Saturday at  East End Arts’ Carriage House in Riverhead Saturday morning.

Bakota Indians of western Gabon and the eastern Congo used reliquary guardian figures or “mbulu ngulu” to guard  the bones of family ancestors in the same way that the bones of saints are given divine significance by the Catholic Church. The reliquary figures are among the world’s greatest African art treasures.

Mr. Brazil discussed the symbolic meanings and importance of these cultural icons and the ceremonial practices of the Bakota. The bones were placed in in special boxes or baskets and the reliquary figures were placed inside or on top of the boxes and kept in huts on the outskirts of the village. The figures were meant to ward off evil spirits.

The face of the figure is flat with a disproportionately long neck and a oval crescent representing hair. It could also be a halo representing the spirit. The mouth is eliminated to  show how difficult it is to communicate with spirits.The nose is reduced to a blade and the eyes are very round. The body has a diamond shape.

Mr. Brazil demonstrated the techniques of metal tooling or “repousse” to design and decorate the masks on metal foil using a birch tool, flipping the foil over and over again to create concave and convex geometric designs. The artists then finished their figures using metallic colored pencils, pastels and gel markers on flat black paper.

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