The “Kotoko Equestrians, Guardians of the Soul” exhibition displays miniature bronze figurines – talismans bearing the horse and rider motif, featuring exceptional stylistic versatility and strong symbolic meaning in the culture of the African Kotoko people. Similar to amulets worn around the world believed to bring good luck or blessings of the gods, "Kotoko Equestrians" are personal items most often worn as pendants on necklaces or bracelets, which represent a source of spiritual strength for their owners.
Kotoko people inhabit three neighbouring countries encircling Lake Chad – Nigeria, Cameroun and Chad. According to their beliefs horseman-shaped talismans have the power of appeasing the spirits which cause weakness of soul, sadness, fear, alienation or various ailments. Along with miniature statuettes of horsemen, necklaces and bracelets often bear kauri shells, leather gri-gri amulets, bells or various other attached items which protect the individual from any negative spirit influences or as gifts which secure their benevolence.
Exhibits displayed at the Museum of African Art include over three hundred artefacts from the collection of renowned Italian collector of African art Mr. Pierluigi Peroni. The exhibition presents for the most part figures of horsemen made of bronze, as well as copper, brass, silver, iron, and aluminium, alongside rare exemplars made of ivory and terracotta. These unique figures, cast in metal in most cases in the lost wax technique (cire perdue), are a testimony to the exceptional art of sculptural expression of the Kokoto people, and their sophisticated techniques of processing material. Despite their size from two to fourteen centimetres, many figures are characterised by numerous elaborate details: the rider almost always sports a sword and shield, while horses have saddles and panniers outlined. The displayed collection contains a gamut of artistic solutions – ranging from figures approaching a realistic expression to free stylizations and almost abstract forms. Distancing from a faithful depiction of horses and their riders, these micro-figures achieve monumentality in the composition of the two creatures – sometimes obsequious and at other times valiant, in poise or just a hint of gesture and strength.
In the spirit of the great Italian tradition of collecting works of art, of respecting and cherishing both national and world cultural heritage, Pierluigi Peroni has dedicated many years researching African art and creating his rich collection of “Kokoto Equestrians”. His valuable collection was first exhibited in 2011 in Milan at the Passion Oratory of the St. Ambrogio Basilica. The exhibition of talismans “Kotoko Equestrians, Guardians of the Soul” from the Pierluigi Peroni collection will be on display at the Museum of African Art until April 30, 2014.