Art/ Collection/ Art Object

Figure

Date:
16th–20th century
Geography:
Mali
Culture:
Dogon or Tellem peoples (?)
Medium:
Wood, sacrificial materials
Dimensions:
H. 21 x W. 3 x D. 2 3/4 in. (53.3 x 7.6 x 7 cm)
Classification:
Wood-Sculpture
Credit Line:
Gift of Lester Wunderman, 1979
Accession Number:
1979.541.1
On view at The Met Fifth Avenue in Gallery 350
A figure with raised arms is one of the most common types of Dogon sculpture. This gesture can be found on relatively naturalistic Dogon figures as well as on those that have been transformed into arrangements of geometric shapes, like this example. Here the artist has created a double image - a figure with raised arms carved in relief on a highly abstract, plank-like figure that also has raised arms. The figure in relief wears a tapering coiffure and has an odd-looking pointed chest. The plank figure tapers to a point at the bottom, presumably because it leaned against a wall or was placed flat on the ground, as in altars dedicated to the deceased family members and binu, 'immortal' ancestors revered by an entire clan.
Flat plank figures like this are not uncommon in Dogon art. The flat portion may extend the full length of the figure, or may end above the hips. These figures are almost always coated with a thick crust of sacrificial materials and often have notches cut in each side. In some cases these notches suggest the indentation of the torso between the shoulders and the hips. Figures in the form of planks have been found in the Tellem caves, which indicates that the motif may be quite old. However, some of the most full-volumed, naturalistic Dogon sculptures, stylistically opposed to the plank figures, also seem to be among the oldest, suggesting once again that style is not a useful factor in determining the age of a Dogon sculpture.
[Aaron Furman Gallery, New York, until 1971]; Lester Wunderman, New York, 1971–1979

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