Power Object (Boli), 19th–20th century
Wood, sacrificial materials (patina)
H. 14 1/4 in. (36.2 cm), W. 7 9/16 in. (19.2 cm), D. 20 1/2 in. (52.1 cm)
The Michael C. Rockefeller Memorial Collection, Bequest of Nelson A. Rockefeller, 1979 (1979.206.175)
A rough, cracked surface obscures exact identification of the organic and inorganic materials assembled to create the boli (pl.: boliw), or power object, shown here. Leaders of West African power associations manipulate diverse media to create boliw in human, bovine, and elliptical forms. The sculptures range in size from portable works that fit into bags and attaché cases to almost human-sized constructions. Their striking forms suggest the knowledge and skill of the individuals who built them, while their elusive ingredients underscore restrictions placed on knowledge exchange. Power association leaders develop intricate formulas that allow them to harness incredible material and metaphysical potential, including nyama, a potent force that unleashes great destruction when mismanaged. To that end, they study the unique properties of flora, fauna, and other elements and combine them in infinite ways. However, power association leaders obfuscate their knowledge due to the potential for such knowledge to cause harm. Boliw result from experts' deliberate calculations and determined efforts to wield incredible energy. The sculptures' surfaces appear impenetrable to uneducated beholders and conceal the powerful ingredients they contain.