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HOME : African & Tribal Art : Dogon Sculptures : Dogon Female Ancestor Sculpture
Dogon Female Ancestor Sculpture - PF.6156 (LSO)
Origin: Mali
Circa: 19 th Century AD to 20 th Century AD
Dimensions: 43.5" (110.5cm) high
Collection: African
Medium: Wood

Location: Great Britain
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This outstandingly expressive sculpture is a female ancestor/maternity figure from the Dogon group of Mali. It is made from solid, well-sculpted wood with good age. It represents a standing woman, with flexed knees, elongated upper arms and her hands resting on her thighs. The torso is powerful and well-proportioned, with broad shoulders integral to the breasts, thinning to the abdomen. The neck is tall and columnar, with an antero-posteriorly deep head. The face is bold and simple, with round eyes, an inverted T-bar nose and protuberant lips. The chin is decorated with a beard, which is common to Dogon sculptures, regardless of gender.

The Dogon people of the Bandiagara escarpment, Mali, have been described as the most studied and least understood tribal group in Africa. Their culture is exceptionally complex, owing to their long history and also their internal variability along their home range. 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 that were living on the escarpment at the time. 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.

There are seventy-eight different mask forms still in production (and numerous extinct variants), which have applications ranging from circumcision to initiation and funeral rites (damas). Some masks are only used once every sixty years (sigi funerary festivals), while others commemorate twins, snakes, ancestors (nommo) and hogons (holy men). Secular items – such as headrests, granary doors/locks and troughs – are decorated with iconographic designs that bestow benedictions upon the user or owner. Classification is also hampered by the large scale of the population and their homeland. The Dogon took inspiration from the Tellem (lit. “we found them”) sculptures recovered from caves on the escarpment, notably human figures with upraised arms in what is believed to be a prayer for rainfall. Most figures were not made to be seen publicly, and are commonly kept by the spiritual leader (hogon) away from the public eye, in family houses or sanctuaries.

It is not an understatement to claim that the Dogon are obsessed with their ancestors, both historical and mythical. This figure relates to a real or fictional female ancestress, including the semi-human nommo that feature at the very genesis of the Dogon people. It bears the stylistic design of the Master of Ogol in its strict angularity, although the detailing would be inconsistent for this attribution. In practical terms, it was kept in a shrine and anointed by the hogon, who would have revered it as a religious artifact. This is a remarkable and imposing piece of African art.

- (PF.6156 (LSO))


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