This striking plate-like bronze/brass object is a pectoral made by the Dogon group of the Bandiagara Escarpment, Mali. It is based around a tubular suspension loop that runs along the apex of the object. The main body is slim in profile, with a stylised face, several geometric motifs and a dog (?) lying on its back along the very bottom of the piece. The quality of the rendering is very good, as is the patination; it looks as if it was excavated after prolonged burial. The face is probably male, judging from the beard, and is surmounted by what appears to be a crown or ambitious headdress. The side bars with circles may represent coiffure and ear-plugs.
The Dogon have been described as the most studied and least understood tribal group in Africa. They have a long, continuous history, with exceptional cultural diversity. They moved to this area in the 15th century to escape Mande and Islamic slavers, displacing a number of local tribes (including the Tellem and Niongom). They are excessively prolific in terms of artistic production; masks/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.
There are around seventy-eight different mask forms still in production (and numerous extinct variants), with applications ranging from circumcision to initiation and funeral rites (damas). There are also masks and figures that are directed towards regard for twins, snakes, ancestors, nommo, hogons (holy men); even secular items are decorated with beneficial iconographic designs including headrests, granary doors/locks, house-posts and troughs. The scale of the population and the size of the area in which they live have resulted in considerable artistic diversity in terms of styles.
This is a decorative piece that was presumably used to signal status and served a decorative rather than protective role. It is an attractive and significant piece of African art.