Art/ Collection/ Art Object

Men's Beaded Bodice

mid-20th century
African (Dinka peoples)
glass beads, animal skins, wood, cowry shells
Credit Line:
Isabel Shults Fund, 2001
Accession Number:
Not on view
This extraordinary beaded corset is a rare example of the everyday wear of Dinka men. Because the Dinka peoples are herders, wandering the vast plains of southern Sudan, portable possessions are very important. Like many southern and eastern African cultures, the Dinka have traditionally focused on the human form as the primary method of artistic expression.
Because these garments are used to communicate characteristics such as gender, age, wealth, and ethnic affiliation, we can infer a significant amount of information about the past wearer of this object. In particular, the red-and-black patterning indicates that the corset was worn by a male between the ages of fifteen and twenty-five. The decoration of cowries, along with the extreme height of the back, marks the wearer as someone of considerable wealth. The addition of the fur skirt (possibly cattle hair) is significant. The Dinka, who have traditionally gained their livelihood from their herds, value their animals as a source of aesthetic inspiration and a link to the spiritual world.
As highly prized commodities, beads are a sign of wealth and status among the Dinka peoples. The polychrome glass beads that make up this garment are European, while the cowries and fur skirt are undoubtedly of local origin.
The Metropolitan Museum of Art. "Extreme Beauty: The Body Transformed," December 4, 2001–March 17, 2002.

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