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HOME : African & Tribal Art : Dogon Sculptures : Dogon Bronze Sculpture of a Man
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Dogon Bronze Sculpture of a Man - PF.4482 (LSO)
Origin: Southeastern Mali/Burkina Faso
Circa: 18 th Century AD to 19 th Century AD
Dimensions: 9" (22.9cm) high x 1.75" (4.4cm) wide
Collection: African
Medium: Bronze

$6,000.00
Location: United States
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Description
This monolithic sculpture of a standing man was rendered in bronze/brass, and is a classic example of Dogon sculpture. It is simplified and deliberately attenuated, with long legs (unusually for the Dogon) that roughly match the length of the torso. The knees and the arms are slightly bent, and the hips are also flexed. The neck is elongated and columnar, supporting a small, compact head with a crested coiffure or headwear. The jawline is sharp, the face slightly upturned and sharp along the midline. The eyes are small, under incised arched brows which lend a slightly lugubrious expression to the face. The metal is nicely patinated, lending further emphasis to the linear construction. The function of the piece is uncertain; it may have been involved in a divination process, in the hands of the hogon (shaman), or as a talismanic object in the hands of a high-ranking member of Dogon society. Metal objects were especially expensive and luxurious, and this would therefore have been an important item when it was made.

The Dogon people of the Bandiagara escarpment, Mali, have been described as the most studied and least understood tribal group in Africa. Their history, technology, cultural wealth, art and even oral legends are among the most involved in Africa, not least because the polity is in fact essentially artificial, comprising various sub-units that were grouped together on the basis of propinquity under the colonial administration. The Dogon live on the Bandiagara escarpment, Mali, a 150-mile-long eminence that supports a population of between 250,000 and 450,000. They have been described as the most studied and least understood tribal group in Africa. They moved to this area in the 15th century, escaping the Mande kingdom and slavery at the hands of Islamic groups, and displaced a number of tribes (including the Tellem and Niongom) that were living on the escarpment at the time. They are agriculturists (millet, barley, onions and various animals), patrilineal, polygamous and have a society arranged around specialist trades. They are excessively prolific in terms of artistic production, not least because they have mastered all the main materials that are used in traditional African art; figures in stone, iron, bronze/copper and of course wood are all known, in addition to cave/rock painting and adaptation of more modern materials. Furthermore, their social structures are extremely complex (and variable – see below) and are socially signalled through numerous material signalling systems. Their profound resistance to Islam – which once sought to enslave them – is striking in light of their comparative proximity, and can be seen in their defiantly figurative artworks which are of course banned under Islamic law.

Their diversity has posed certain challenges to western art historians. There are around seventy-eight different mask forms still in production (in addition to numerous extinct variants), which are used in ceremonies for circumcision, initiation, funeral rites (damas), cultic procedures (the Dogon have numerous cults that pertain to twins, as well as spirits including mono, sigui, Lebe [crocodile], binou and amma) and other seminal events. They also produce numerous sculptural forms, of males, females, hermaphrodites, nommos (ancestral spirits), animals and unidentifiable individuals that have maternity, apotropaic and ancestor functions. The scale of the population and the size of the area in which they live have resulted in considerable social and artistic diversity. Noted variants include the Master of Ogol style, Tintam, Kambari, Komakon, Bombou-Toro, Wakara, Niongom, Kibsi and Nduleri figures, all of which can all be differentiated stylistically on the basis of their mode of execution. Their discovery of ancient sculptures by the Tellem people in caves along the base of the escarpment led to the incorporation of certain stylistic conventions (i.e. human figures with upraised arms in what is believed to be a prayer for rainfall) into more recent Dogon works. Most sculptures are not made to be seen publicly, and are commonly kept by the spiritual leader (Hogon) away from the public eye, within the houses of families, or in sanctuaries. They are also renowned for their skilful production of jewellery and other metal objects. Organic-looking rock paintings are carried out on behalf of boys undergoing the circumcision process. Even secular items are endowed with iconographic designs that bestow benedictions upon the user or owner; notable examples include headrests, granary doors/locks, house-posts and troughs.

This attractive piece was probably kept by the Hogon and displayed – or used, if talismanic – for specific ceremonies. It displays well, and is an elegant and refined piece of art, and a credit to any collection.

- (PF.4482 (LSO))

 

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