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Dan Sculpture of a Woman - PF.6068
Origin: Liberia
Circa: 19 th Century AD to 20 th Century AD
Dimensions: 10.75" (27.3cm) high
Collection: African
Style: Dan
Medium: Brass

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Like the gold weights of the Akan peoples and the heddle pulleys of the Baule and Senufo tribes, the bronze figures of the Dan are considered to be the exceptional case in the corpus of African art: art objects created for art’s sake. Void of any religious significance or ceremonial function, these realistically crafted sculptures were used by chieftains as purely decorative objects. The chieftain took pleasure in them as they are, appreciating the extraordinary beauty of the objects and the inherent skills of the craftsmanship. This sculpture of a mother with a baby clinging to her back bears the stylistic signatures of Dan figurative art including the bulbous limbs and the planar feet and hands. Her head is crowned by an elaborate cruciform hairstyle erupting from the center of her head that enhances the sense of her physical beauty. Her outstanding beauty is also implied by the decorative bands she wears just below her knees, her numerous bracelets, and her necklace with three banana-shaped pendants, all reflective of her wealth and rank in society. The child on her back is a clear symbol of her fecundity. Her large sagging breasts are exaggerated in order to enhance further her fertility. Such a splendid masterpiece of sculpture needs no ceremonial or religious purpose to achieve its power. The force of this artwork is the art itself and the hand of the sculptor. Originally, this work was coveted as an object of beauty by chieftains of the Dan tribe. Today, we appreciate this same striking beauty much as the chieftains would have almost a century ago. (Location: Liberia, Côte d'Ivoire Population: 350,000 Language: Dan (Mande) Neighboring Peoples: Guere, Guro, Mano Types of Art: Dan sculptors mainly produce masks which deal with virtually every element in Dan society, including education, competition, war, peace, social regulation, and of course, entertainment. They also produce stylized wooden spoons and intricate game boards used for mancala, a common game of "count and capture". History: Oral traditions describe the Dan society of the 19th century as lacking any central governing power. Social cohesion was fostered by a shared language and a preference for intermarriage. Generally, each village had a headman who had earned his position of advantage in the community through hard work in the fields and through luck as a hunter. They usually surrounded themselves with young warriors for protection from invading neighbors and exchanged gifts with other chiefs in order to heighten their own prestige. Out of this custom was born the basic tradition of tin among the Dan, which was based on displaying one's success in order to build a good reputation and name. Economy: The tradition of tin is still an essential part of the Dan economy today. Young people strive to make a name for themselves by lavishly spending at community feasts to demonstrate their wealth. Although farming and hunting have been largely replaced by laboring in the diamond camps or working at the rubber plantations, the establishment of a hierarchical social order is still based on the individual's ability to succeed. Political Systems: It has been only recently, through the creation of the leopard society (go), that a unifying political organization has emerged among the Dan. The secret political society centers around the powerful spirit go, who is responsible for peacemaking. Although the power of go seems to be increasing throughout Dan society, individual villages still maintain a high degree of political independence, and the economic power of the individual is still highly valued. Religion: The Dan world view holds that everything can be divided into two separate and clear categories. The primary dichotomy is between village and bush, in other words, things that have been controlled by man and things that have not. Crossing over the dividing line is dangerous business, and whenever it is done, whether to clear new fields or simply crossing the forest, the bush spirits must be appeased. In order to take part in village life, the bush spirits must take corporeal form. The Dan believe that all creatures have a spirit soul (du), which is imparted onto humans and animals from the creator god, Xra, through birth. One's du is immortal and is passed on after death to a new being. However, some du remain bodiless. They inhabit the forests as bush spirits and must establish a relationship with a person if they wish to be manifested and honored. Often the spirit will request the chosen person to dance the spirit, utilizing a mask to illustrate the spirit's embodiment.) Credits: Christopher D. Roy - (PF.6068)

 

 

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