This elongated figure has been attributed to the Djennenke group of Nigeria and Mali. It is a remarkable example, depicting a woman sitting on a low stool. Her legs are very short, while her torso and arms are enormously attenuated. The arms are banded with numerous armlets and bracelets. Her head is tall, with a sectorial bun coiffure, a domed forehead and a flat face with low-relief features. In an unusual detail, the abdomen is detailed with what appears to be a roll of flesh, perhaps suggesting a woman who has already given birth
The Djennenke are one of the most inscrutable groups in African history. Their name technically means “those of Djenne”, a name given to them by Songhay groups in the Dogon area. It has been suggested that they lived within the influence of the Djenne culture and thus the Mali Empire (see below), while other sources state that it is a purely geographical distinction and is based solely on wooden sculptures from the eastern side of the Bandiagara escarpment (they are believed to be ancestral to the Dogon). The Djenne themselves are also somewhat mysterious. They are one of various groups that went to make up the Mali Empire, which dominated much of Nigeria and Mali between the 12th and 15th centuries AD. They are known primarily for their art, and indeed may be a stylistic variant rather than an ethnographic one. Their works – which are mostly in terracotta and metal – are known for their naturalism.
The great age of these pieces and the often uncontrolled manner in which they were excavated mean that their function can only be guessed at. In terms of overall size, it would seem that this would have been a personal or domestic piece, while the composition implies some form of maternity, fertility or fecundity role. This is a charming and important piece of African art.
- (PF.5144 (LSO))