Dogon Ancestors: Seated Couple
19th-20th c African (West) Dogon Sculpture
(active 13th c - present)
Wood & metal
Mali. Western Sudan.
New York. Metropolitan Museum of Art.
The ancestors are considered to be part of the community, just as are those still to be born. Homage is paid to the ancestors who are personified in statues like this one, shown in both front and back view.
The abstract formal qualities of the stiffly seated figures have the same attraction now that they had for avant-guard European artists at the beginning of the last century. The forms echo each other: thin trunks with stylized hips and breasts. Both have bulging belly buttons surrounded by tattoo marks, and tattoos mark their faces. They are distinguished by their genitalia and by the symbols on their backs; her child and his quiver for arrows. Their hair is slightly different, though both wear earrings. What looks like a beard on the woman is actually a decoration that pierces her lower lip. The arm of the man tenderly surrounds the woman, and the slight angel of his arm break the otherwise rigid structure of the figures. The negative spaces between them add to the abstract elegance of the work.
Dogon mythology identifies four pairs of elders, each the progenitors of a different clan. Yearly ceremonies honor them in which they are offered sacrifices by their descendants who ask them for a rich harvest, for fertility and for health.
Dogon | Seated couple. | c. 1850-1950 | Mali | Dogon