Looking at the Sky. Dogon People and Their Art
The National Museum in Szczecin
Wały Chrobrego 3 | Wały Chrobrego 3

VERNISSAGE: September 15th 2017 | 6.00 P.M. | The National Museum in Szczecin | 3 Wały Chrobrego St. | free entrance

The subject of the exhibition are the Dogon people, living in Bandiagara Escarpment in south-central part of The Republic of Mali. The story about Dogons, their religion, cosmological knowledge and mythology revolves around art, considered one of the most authentic and not contaminated by European influences.

The Dogon population amounts to 500-600 thousand. They use Dogo-so language, traditionally placed among Gur language group. They inhabit over a dozen of villages located in the massif, a plateau surrounding it and in so-called rubble, that is, rocky slopes. Those last settlements, hard to reach, but picturesquely located, belong to the most interesting ones. Dogons are typically agricultural people, cultivating several species of cereals and, apparently, not distinguishing among the peoples of Africa. They are, however, characterized by complicated social structure and rich spiritual culture. They are divided into eighty families, belonging to four great groups, commonly called tribes. There are several endogamous groups within their social structure, which differ in culture ant status. They believe in one creator god called Amma, but they also follow numerous cults, among others, the ancestors’ cult (Wagem), Lebe and Binou. Every 60 years they arrange the Sigi holiday which provides them with continuous rebirth. In their developed ceremonial they use Sigi-so language, belonging to Mande group, spoken only by several people who perform important functions. Their oral traditions include complicated and esoteric knowledge of the origins of the universe, of the Earth and of their ancestors. They know a lot about planets and stars.

For years they have been fascinating both scientists and travellers. Marcel Griaule, Germaine Dieterlen, Solange de Ganay, Denise Paulme are among outstanding researchers interested in their culture. Polish anthropologists (Ryszard Vorbrich, Jacek Łapott, Lucjan Buchalik) for over forty years have been exploring Dogon villages as well. Dogon people – popularized by literature – have become a synonym of African exotics. 

Dogon artists are most frequently blacksmiths, considered also “masters of wood”. It however happens, that members of Awa society also deal with art.  

The main material is wood, although there are also statuettes made of stone, iron or, less frequently, clay. Spiritual meaning and symbolic aspect concealed in the form are of greatest importance for a Dogon creator.

Among Dogon pieces of art, masks are worth particular attention. There are over 70 kinds of them, used by Bandiagara Escarpment inhabitants for Dama funeral ceremonies. They are reflections of the world known by Dogon people. They include images of animals living in the bush, of neighbouring peoples, representatives of local professions and, related to them, castes. There might be also seen mythological characters and symbolical representations of material objects. The parts of Dogon masks which represent faces are geometrized and abstract. They form the whole together with costumes made of dyed plant fibres. The fibres are the subject of numerous stories explaining the origins of masks.   

Images of ancestors – real and mythical, male female and androgynous ones, outweigh other figural representations. Some of them are holding their hands up. The gesture is interpreted as praying effort aimed at joining the Earth and the sky. The mark of the union is rain, so important for farmers. It is supposed that primarily this way of sculpturing the ancestors was characteristic of Tellem people – mysterious inhabitants of Bandiagara Escarpment from before the Dogon arrival. This supposition soaked into Dogon tradition and the relations with Tellem people is today testified only by the name “tellem” given to those sculptures. Dogon artists usually show humans in a simplified way. They are given slim shapes and disproportionally large heads and torsos. Anatomic details are symbolically marked and the ways of decorating the bodies are given in detail. The most important elements of female statuettes are breasts and those of male ones – shoulders and genitals. Among anthropomorphic figures particular attention might be paid to statuettes of women with children, referring to primeval mother and, symbolically, to maternity love and female fertility, valued much in Africa. 

Beside anthropomorphic figures, the Dogon art presents also images of animals, especially those which are important for mythology: crocodile (commonly called the cayman), yurugu jackal with the gift of the second sight, turtle and hornbill (calao). Those animal and human images are repeated also in prophetic sets, which are popular examples of Dogon art. Artists, apart from full sculptures, create also reliefs, which cover doors of granaries or Ginna Bana houses, both with sculptured locks. The most popular motif appearing in these reliefs are Dogon ancestors. 

The objects shown on the exhibition have been purchased by The National Museum in Szczecin on account of the Ministry of Culture and National Heritage subsidy within “Museum Collections” program and of the funds of West-Pomeranian Voivodeship budget 2017. 

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Looking at the Sky. Dogons and Their Art

location:  The National Museum in Szczecin, 3 Wały Chrobrego St.

exhibition dates: September 15th 2017 – November 30th 2017 

exhibition opening: September 15th 2017 (Friday), 6.00 P.M.

opening hours:  Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, Saturday: 10.00 A.M. – 6.00. P.M., Friday and Sunday: 10.00 A.M. – 4.00 P.M.

Curator Ewa Prądzyńska 

Organizer: The National Museum in Szczecin

Dogonowie plakat net