|Dogon Tellum figure with raised arms
and information on Dogon sculpture
|A figure with raised arms is one of the most common types of Dogon sculpture.
A number of interrelated meanings have been given to Dogon sculptures with raised arms. In their later work, Griaule and Dieterlen
interpreted the gesture of raised arms as representing various aspects of Nommo's role in organizing and purifying the universe and his
relationship with Amma, the Creator (Griaule and Dieterlen, 1986: 381-85). Earlier, the gesture had been said to indicate communication
between the earth and heaven (Leiris, 1933: 30), specifically a prayer for rain, an essential commodity in the arid environment in which the
Dogon people live. This latter interpretation is bolstered by the appearance of this gesture in actual Dogon ritual. Sacrifices to elicit rain are
made on altars called andugo, which are dedicated to the spiritual being Nomrrio, who is present in all water, including rain. Andugo altars
consist of ancient stone axes believed by the Dogon to have been sent down by Nommo with the rain, iron hooks called gobo, and sometimes
wooden figures. After making a sacrifice over the altar and building a fire whose thick smoke is said to attract dark rain clouds, the officiant
holds a gobo in his outstretched arm and brings it back over his head, making a hooking gesture to pull the rain-bearing clouds closer
(Dieterlen and Ganay, 1942: 36, 38).
I currently do not have any Dogon figures in my collection
Below are some examples for reference
|Sotheby's - New York
African, Oceanic and Pre-Columbian Art
Auction Date : Nov 11, 2004
Lot 49 : A FINE DOGON, NIONGOM OR TELLEM, FIGURE
Southern Cliff, circa 14th-15th century, rising from a rounded base with suggested knees leading to high,
rounded buttocks, the torso with pendant breasts beneath the prognathous chin and abbreviated facial
features beneath the dramatically upraised arms terminating in a pointed, plaque; exceptionally fine aged,
weathered and encrusted light brown patina.
height 19 3/4 in. 50cm
$ 8,000 - $ 12,000
PROPERTY FROM A NEW YORK ESTATE
Acquired from Hélène and Philippe Leloup, New York and Paris, December 1993
Leloup 1994: figure 50
|Sotheby's - New York
African, Oceanic and Pre-Columbian Art
Auction Date : May 14, 2004
Lot 34 : A FINE AND RARE DOGON TELLEM MALE AND FEMALE PAIR
each of similar form, rising from a circular base, the legs leading to rounded hips and slightly
tapered torsos, the shelf-like chests leading to upraised arms framing the large ovoid heads, the
male with a beard and c-shaped ears, the female with full oval lips; exceptionally fine heavily
encrusted greyish brown millet patina.
height of tallest 18 1/2 in. 47cm
$ 40,000 - $ 60,000
PROPERTY FROM AN AMERICAN PRIVATE COLLECTION
Jacques Ulmann, Paris
Lucien Van de Velde, Antwerp
The concept of male and female harmonious interdependence is central to Dogon ideology as it
relates to cosmology, social organization and art. In Dogon origin mythology the god Amma created
four sets of beings, called Nommo, each embodying male and female traits. 'Metaphors for social
order and creativity, the Nommo are associated with introducing to humanity the essential arts of
smithing, weaving and agriculture' (LaGamma 2004: 14). The offered male and female couple can
be viewed as representing these essential Dogon ideas of human duality. See also DeMott (1982)
and Ezra (1988) for further discussion.
Stylistically, the offered figures can be attributed to the Ireli sub-style of Tellem sculpture. De Grunne
(1993: 19-30), in his analysis of Tellem sculpture, defines three sub-styles, each named for a region
of Mali: Kommaga, Nini and Ireli styles. The Kommaga style is defined by abstract, plank-like Tellem
works. Nini are works that are carved in high-relief, but with plank-like backs. The Ireli type includes
works in which the figure is carved in full, three-dimensional form. See De Grunne (ibid.: 28, figure
10) for a related Dogon Tellem figure with one arm upraised in the collection of the Metropolitan
Museum of Art.
|Sotheby's - New York
African & Oceanic Art
Auction Date : Nov 14, 2003
Lot 8 : A DOGON TELLUM FIGURE
the abstract figure standing on fragmentary legs and supporting rounded hips, the left arm missing, the right arm with an exaggerated forearm
raised above the head; heavily encrusted light to medium brown patina.
14 1/2 in. 37cm
$ 6,000 - $ 9,000
Thomas Alexander, St. Louis
Cf. Leiris and Damase (1959:22) for a related Tellem figure with bulbous arm.
|Below are some examples in the
Metropolitan Museum of Art in NY
|I nicknamed her "The Diva"
|Other examples of Dogon figures at the Met
Dogon art presents a broad range of object types and styles. Among the human figures alone, some are well over life-size, while others are
barely a few inches in height. Their repertoire of gestures is also varied, and includes figures standing, kneeling, sitting, or riding, raising one
or both arms in a variety of poses, and holding or wearing articles related to their gender, age, occupation, or social status. In style they vary
from full-volumed, sensitively modeled sculptures that are highly descriptive in their details to works that are reduced to abstract geometric
shapes stripped of all but the barest references to human anatomy. The surfaces of Dogon sculptures also suggest that they are treated in a
variety of ways and may therefore have a range of meanings. While some works are smooth, oiled, and polished, others are thickly coated with
sacrificial materials, sometimes to the point of obscuring their sculptural form. The range of styles and imagery seen in Dogon sculpture
suggests that they embody richer and more varied references than the simple identification as images of Nommo would encompass. Even if
the ultimate meaning of Dogon art depends upon the concept of Nommo, as Griaule and Dieterlen and their followers propose, this meaning
can only be enriched by adding to it the many other levels of meaning that arise from the particular settings in which the objects are located.
The Dogon place wood figures depicting men and women on many different kinds of altars, most of which are dedicated to ancestors, either
real or mythical. Although figurative sculptures, called dege, are perhaps the most interesting types of Dogon art, varied in form and rich in
imagery, they are also among the least well documented. Few altars have been described in detail or illustrated; those that have been
described do not suggest any consistent pattern linking a particular style of figure or a specific posture or gesture with any one kind of altar.
There is also little information with which to identify the persons represented by the figures.
Each lineage possesses an altar containing figurative sculpture, which is dedicated to its founders and to subsequent members who have
died, known as vageu. In recounting the myth of the first person to die in human form, Griaule tells of how a wooden sculpture representing the
dead man was carved in order to provide a support for his soul and his vital force (nyama), which were released at his death. The figure was
placed on the man's rooftop terrace along with a pottery bowl for libations. As death spread throughout the land, similar figures and bowls were
placed on altars established by each lineage (Griaule, 1938: 171-72; Dieterlen, 1941: 18,22, 140; also Desplagnes, 1907:273). Photographs
and drawings of vageu altars show rather simplified, even cylindrical, stick like figures leaning against the wall of the shrine (Dieterlen, 1941:
pis. Vb and Vc, fig. 10). Along with the figures one also sees pottery bowls and small cups in which sacrificial liquids are offered to the
ancestors and small notched ladders so the spirits can climb to the rooftop altar; iron hooks (gobo), cylinders of red ocher, iron ornaments,
and pots of roots soaking in water are kept there also and are used in healing. Sacrifices are performed collectively on all these objects at
planting and harvest times, as well as by individuals who have inherited the souls of particular ancestors. The altars are kept in the ginna, or
lineage head's house, of which there are several in each village. An altar can be found on the upper story of the house, in a corner of the
living quarters, in the granary, in the courtyard, or even in a separate structure nearby (Paulme, 1940: 109-11; Dieterlen, 1941: 141-47).
Not all of a family's deceased members are commemorated on the vageu altar. The souls of women who died during pregnancy or childbirth
are considered dangerous, and the forces that cause such deaths are particularly contagious (Paulme, 1940: 531-36; Dieterlen, 1941: 195-
205; Ortoli, 1941). The souls of these women, called yaupilu (literally, "white women"), are enshrined in a separate sanctuary, usually in a cave
outside the village, and are cared for by a priest who is a skilled healer. Such a sanctuary contains the various pottery bowls, wooden sticks,
and staffs found on vageu altars, as well as anthropomorphic wood figures representing both men and women (Ganay, 1941: 132; Dieterlen,
1941: 199, pls. XIIIa XIIIb; Dieterlen, 1981: 16). Every year, sacrifices are made to this altar by those who have been cured of illnesses caused
by the spirits of the dead women, and the figures are completely smeared with the blood of the slaughtered sheep and goats.
While the vageu and yaupilu ancestors are actual deceased members of the family, the binu in whose shrines figure sculptures are also found
belong to the mythic era when humans were immortal (Dieterlen, 1941: 216—27; Ganay, 1942). Binu shrines or sanctuaries are separate
structures built in the courtyard of the ginna. Each one contains an altar on which the wooden figures are found, leaning against the wall of the
shrine. Small bowls, miniature ladders, iron hooks and bracelets, and L-shaped wooden domolo staffs are also placed in binu shrines
(Dieterlen, 1941: 220; Ganay, 1942: 13—14). The sculptures are often mentioned in the myths describing the ancestor's initial contact with his
clan, in which he provides a sculpture along with other objects as tokens of his alliance with his descendants (Ganay, 1941: 114, 123). The
sculptures on binu shrines take a variety of forms and sizes. Although in some cases they appear to be simple cylinders, in others they are
less abstract and have more varied and descriptive human and animal imagery (Ganay, 1942: 13-14; Gnaule and Dieterlen, 1986: 381-85,
484-85). The binu sculptures are said to represent either the binu himself or his first priest (Dieterlen, 1941: 220), but it has also been
suggested that they represent various aspects of Nommo, who is considered the ultimate source of the binu's spiritual force (Griaule and
Dieterlen, 1986: 381).
In addition to altars dedicated to the ancestors, some Dogon figures are placed on altars made to augment and strengthen a living individual's
personal force, or nyama. One such altar is the kutogolo, which is dedicated to a person's own head, ku, the seat of his or her thought and will.
The kutogolo consists of a ball of earth mixed with seeds into which iron hooks, clay pots, and occasional small wooden figures are stuck
(Dieterlen, 1941: 77-79, pi. XIc). The bala is an altar made for a left-handed person, who is believed to have special powers in his or her left
hand. These altars, too, are made of balls of earth into which small wooden figures, some of them with raised arms, are stuck along with iron
hooks and bracelets (Dieterlen, 1941: 83-84, pi. Xld; N'Diaye, 1972: n. 11). Both kutogolo and bala altars are kept in the niches in the facade
ofaginna, or in the corner of a storeroom. Some Dogon blacksmiths and hunters also have individual altars, which often include figurative
sculpture (Paris, Musee Guimet, 1959: 116; Dieterlen, 1965: 15).
Dogon rain-making altars, called andugo, have also been found with figure sculptures. The andugo are the focus of sacrifices to Nommo, who
as Master of Water is manifested in every body of water on earth, including the rain falling from the sky. These altars can be located on a
rooftop terrace, in a courtyard, on the outskirts of a village, or in a separate sanctuary; some are portable and can be carried to fields in
particular need of rain. The altars consist of a pile of ancient stone tools—"thunderstones" believed to have fallen from the sky—into which
iron hooks and wooden figures may be inserted. These figures are said to represent Nommo. Judging from examples in the few published
photographs and descriptions, they vary in size, style, and iconography; in one altar an androgynous seated figure and a figure covering his
face with his hands, as well as several others, were noted (Dieterlen and Ganay, 1942: 30-40, pi. III).
Source: Art of the Dogon, by Kate Ezra
A fantastic resource on the Dogon