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HOME : African & Tribal Art : Dogon Sculptures : African Art / Dogon Sculpture of a Seated Couple
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African Art / Dogon Sculpture of a Seated Couple - PF.6184
Origin: Mali
Circa: 19 th Century AD to 20 th Century AD
Dimensions: 27.5" (69.9cm) high
Collection: African
Medium: Wooden

Location: United States
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This sculpture represents one of the more mysterious subject matters in Dogon art. A couple sits upon a chief stool, replete with caryatid figures, thus represented as dignitaries. They are depicted as equals on the same level, the male resting his arm just above the woman’s shoulders. Although such equality between the sexes was absent from daily life, symbolically, it suggests procreation and the continuity of the lineage, an essential aspect of Dogon society. While the basic subject of this sculpture is easily understood, the meaning of the work is open to scholarly debate. Although once referred to as a “primordial couple,” this attribution seems unlikely since this concept does not exist in Dogon religion. Some Dogon tribesmen have suggested, instead, that it represents mythical twins of opposite sex, symbolic of the perfect union spawned from the world egg of the creator god Amma. In this legend, the male of the twins, named Nommo, left the egg prematurely and wandered the heavens and earth in solitude, searching for his female counterpart. Thus, this sculpture might depict the reunification of Nommo and his twin sister. According to other tribesmen, this sculpture might be a depiction of the ideal marriage of ancient times, that between a uterine uncle and his niece. According to Dogon mythology, again relating to the Nommo myth, marriages were originally between twins, and all births resulted in twins. When Nommo abandoned the womb prematurely, he carried with him a bit of placenta that rotted away and became the earth. When searching for his sister, he traversed the bowels of the earth, viewed as an act of incest between a son and his mother. Thus, incest became forbidden and strictly taboo. Perhaps then, this sculpture represents the incest taboo. Although the meaning of this sculpture can be endlessly debated, its beauty and delicate refinement cannot be denied. Scarifications, delicately engraved onto the surface of the wood, cover their faces, stomachs and shoulders. Their elaborate coiffures have been carefully depicted with crested braids and engraved lines suggesting the texture of the individual strands of hair. Although a stunning work of art that we appreciate for its beauty, this sculpture no doubt had a more important mythological meaning to the Dogon tribe who created it that has unfortunately been lost to us over time. - (PF.6184)


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