T-Minus 9 Days Until 'Kota' Opens At Pulitzer Arts Foundation

By Krystin Arneson
In Culture

Opening Oct. 16 at Pulitzer Arts Foundation, “Kota: Digital Excavations in African Art” is an exhibition that explores innovative uses of new technology to foster a deeper understanding of art history. Produced between the 17th and 20th centuries in Central Africa, Kota reliquary figres were created to guard the bones of deceased ancestors. This exhibition is the first museum exhibition dedicated to these enigmatic objects, and the first to explore a new, interactive digital tool created to identify patterns and groupings among these figures.

Kota image courtesy of Pulitzer Arts

Reliquary guardian figure, 19th century, Ndassa, Republic of Congo, Collection Pierre Amrouche.


Kota Uses, Origins, and History
Kota reliquaries were made in what is now Gabon and the Republic of Congo to protect deceased ancestors: Their remains were bundled in baskets to which the sculptures were affixed. The sculptures were considered the embodiment of local spirits whose protection was vital to the survival and success of the village. As missionary efforts and colonialism swept through Africa in the 1930s, many of the figures were destroyed, and much of the oral history and tradition relating to Kota figures was lost. While many Kota figures remain in museum collections today, few details are known about their specific origins and uses.

Image courtesy of the Pulitzer

Image courtesy of Pulitzer Arts Foundation

Reconstructing History
The exhibition’s co-curators, Frederic Cloth, a Belgian computer engineer, and Kristina Van Dyke, an African art specialist, propose that a new database created by Cloth will help to uncover some of this lost history. The database pulls together existing information on Kota figures and applies a series of algorithms to find similarities and patterns among them, which can lead to new theories about their origins and functions. Revealed patterns also suggest time frames for creation, indicate the existence of artist workshops and begin to shed new light on these objects’ significance and uses.


Image courtesy of the Pulitzer

Image courtesy of Pulitzer Arts Foundation

The Kota Data Cloud
As part of the exhibition, this database will be available to visitors through a new visualization tool created by St. Louis-based software designers Rampant Interactive, the game developers behind Happy Badger studio. The installation, called the Kota Data Cloud, animates object data through a large touchscreen and immersive projection on the gallery walls. Visitors will be able to use the touchscreen to explore the physical similarities and differences among the Kota figures in the database and zoom in on those featured in the exhibition.


Image courtesy of Pulitzer Arts

Image courtesy of Pulitzer Arts Foundation

Experimenting, Hacking, and Prototyping: What to Expect in the Kota ProtoLab
Rampant Interactive will also participate in a five-month residency at the Pulitzer that will transform one of its lower-level galleries into a design studio, dubbed the Kota ProtoLab. The residency will give visitors a chance to build on their experience with the Kota Data Cloud, create their own digital Kota reliquaries, see 3D printed Kota figures, and participate in a series of creative workshops hosted by the Rampant team. Join the Pulitzer during the exhibition opening on Friday, Oct. 16 to see the unveiling of the new digital tool, meet the Rampant team, and preview the exhibition-long residency.

For more details on the Kota project, visit pulitzerarts.org. This post has been brought to you in part by the mentioned organization. All photos have been provided by our partners unless otherwise noted.  

Recent Posts