The Fon of Benin create powerful figures known as bocio, which are considered to be “empowered objects.” This bocio consists of a carved wooden figure with four gourd containers attached.
Libations of empowering materials that are selected for their physical and symbolic potency are repeatedly given to bocio, creating its layered patina. Libations and added materials, cowrie shells in this example, are deliberately revealed to make the object visually powerful, shocking and astonishing.
Bocio were believed to work in conjunction with the energies of the gods, vodun, to protect against evil, sorcery, illness, theft and to provide power and success. According to the donor who field collected this object, it was named Holou Dzenou, and non-dangerous medicines were stored in its containers. The figure is the owner and spirit of the bottles and must be addressed before the medicines will be effective.
Wood anthropomorphic figure surrounded by four gourd containers, with rows of cowrie shells and overall encrustation.
Michael and Shirley Furst, collected 1965-1968
Earth Matters: Land as Material and Metaphor in the Arts of Africa, National Museum of African Art, Smithsonian Institution, Washington, D.C., April 22, 2013-February 23, 2014; Fowler Museum at UCLA, University of California, Los Angeles, April 19-September 14, 2014; Bowdoin College Museum of Art, October 15, 2015-March 9, 2016
Kreamer, Christine Mullen. 2010. "Impermanent by Design: The Ephemeral in Africa’s Tradition-based Arts." African Arts 23 (1), p. 25, no. 17.
Milbourne, Karen E. 2013. Earth Matters: Land as Material and Metaphor in the Arts of Africa. New York: The Monacelli Press; Washington, D.C.: National Museum of African Art, Smithsonian Institution, p. 87, no. 68.