Paris exhibit gives glimpse of androgynous Dogon art

Fri Apr 8, 2011 6:31am EDT
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By Geert De Clercq

PARIS (Reuters Life!) - With its full beard and elongated breasts, worn smooth by the hands of thousands of women praying for fertility, an androgynous wooden statue is the centerpiece of a new Paris show of native West African art.

"Dogon" at the Musee du quai Branly ( from April 5 to July 24 displays more than 300 wooden sculptures - statues, masks, and carved bas-relief granary doors of the Dogon people who live in eastern Mali.

Many sculptures in the show, some carbon-dated to the 10th century, depict hermaphrodite figues with both male and female features and are believed to play a role in fertility rituals.

"The Dogon believe it is the reunion between man and woman that makes the perfect being," Helene Leloup, retired dealer in African art and organizer of the exhibition, told Reuters.

Featuring pieces from the Quai Branly's own collection as well as from the Paris Dapper museum, the New York Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Brooklyn museum and private collections, the exhibition brings together Dogon woodcarvings as well as art from neighboring ethnic groups in eastern Mali.

Statues include horsemen, mother and child carvings and figures with their hands in the air, in a supplication for rain.

Helene Joubert, head of the Quai Branly museum's sub-Saharan African art section, told Reuters that the many androgynous figures are typical of Dogon art and illustrate an obsession with the distinction between the sexes and the elimination of ambiguity between the two.

Anthropologists from France, the colonial ruler of most of West Africa, have long studied the Dogon and carted away hundreds of sculptures, especially during the 1930s, ahead of the opening of the Musee de l'Homme in Paris.   Continued...