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HOME : African & Tribal Art : African Collection/ HK : Dogon Bronze Sculpture of a Man Covered with Locusts
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Dogon Bronze Sculpture of a Man Covered with Locusts - PF.4689 (LSO)
Origin: Southeastern Mali/Burkina Faso
Circa: 1400 AD to 1800 AD
Dimensions: 8.25" (21.0cm) high
Catalogue: V24
Collection: African
Medium: Bronze

Additional Information: Hong Kong

Location: UAE
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This remarkable sculpture of a locust-covered man is a rare – possibly unique – masterwork from one of Africa’s most artistically-significant tribes: the Dogon. The man is standing full- square, with short legs, a protruding stomach, an elongated trunk and excessively slim arms that reach his thighs. He has a projecting, shelf-like beard, protuberant eyes and a sharply ridged nose. This whole body, including the top of his head, is a mass of locusts, all pointing upwards. The patina is dark and irregular, with extensive encrustation.

The Dogon people of the Bandiagara escarpment, Mali, have been described as the most studied but 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, patrilineal, polygamous and have a society arranged around specialist trades. 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. While Islam is prominent in and around the Dogon area, they have remained defiantly figurative in their artistic expression, a tradition which of course is technically banned under Islamic law.

Their output has posed certain challenges to western art historians, as there are around 78 different mask forms (and numerous extinct variants), in addition to figures that are directed towards regard for twins, snakes, ancestors, nommo, hogons (holy men) and a bewildering array of artefacts with various fertility, maternity and ancestor-worship functions. Many cannot be understood without context, and it is fair to say that this possibly unique piece is one of them. The implications of locusts have always been grave for agricultural populations, and the Dogon must also have suffered through the centuries. It is therefore probable that this is a personage or fictional being (such as a nommo) from their past, who has been endowed with an appeal to raise locust swarms, or to draw away the destructive insects. The exceeding complexity and fair size of the object would suggest that it was a magical and valuable piece, and was probably housed by the spiritual leader (hogon) away from the public eye.

This is a world-class piece of ancient sculpure.

- (PF.4689 (LSO))


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