MATERIALS - INCLUDING A
- DOGON BOY AND MAN WITH KANAGA MASK, Museum of African Art,
Smithsonian Institute, NY, Poster.
|The Dogon live in the West African country of
Mali, inland from the great bend of the River Niger. The Dogon
(a word also used for the wild grass that no drought can keep
from growing) live in seemingly primitive conditions. A people
with a lower level of technology would be hard to find. Yet,
on closer examination, the Dogon have been found to have a
highly developed and complex social organization and a rich
and coherent metaphysical system; their version of the world's
creation, for instance, has points in common with the Biblical
account in Genesis.
Kanaga Mask (34"H x 17"W)
|The man in the photograph is
teaching his son one of the skills necessary for his
initiation into the Dogon's male dominated society - How to
make a kanaga mask, to be worn during funerals as a shield
against the life force of the deceased. The Dogon worship
their ancestors who have made possible the development of
their society. But they also consider the dead to be dangerous
and a misfortune is often seen as a vengeance of the dead. The
Dogon believe that when a man dies. his vital energy is
released and becomes a threat to the living. Funeral
ceremonies, usually lasting three days, redistribute the dead
man's vital energy among the living and maintain the harmony
between the natural and supernatural worlds. "The masks are
awakened, " as the Dogon say, and the dead man's friends mime
the actions of his life in dance. Only when the proper dances
have been performed with the proper masks can the dead man
rest and society feel safe. Women are excluded from
participation in public funerals.
DAN JUDGE MASK, "Gaa-Wree-Wre", African Art in
motion, Reproduction photograph.
| Among the many peoples of Liberia,
and the neighboring Ivory Coast countries, is the Dan. The
mask is the main sculptural form. This masked figure functions
as one of the leading traditional judges of the Dan and never
dances. It appears without musicians, accompanied by a single
speaker. When Gaa-Wree-Wre is in the village, the people must
pay strict attention to their behavior so that nothing
offensive to the traditions of public decorum angers the mask.
The mask incarnates forest fierceness (leopard teeth, red
cloth at the ears, raffia gown) and human elegance (slitted
edges, conical headdress, hairpins, textiles). Its profound
authority is furthered by its motions which also stir
wonderment wherever it appears. Gaa-Wree-Wre is seated to hear
a case. Suddenly, after an illuminated chant, he might rise to
walk with strange, short swaying steps, a bell at his hips
clanging in time with the motion. When Gaa-Wree-Wre is
re-seated, he again deliberates the merits of one side or the
other of the dispute; he represents ideal perfect justice. He
moves in gravity and splendour, everything centered on his
mask as the source of wisdom.
EBIRI BLACKSMITH, Ivory Coast, Photograph from Elliot
Elisofon Archives, Museum of African Art, Smithsonian Institute, Reproduction photograph.
|African blacksmiths were considered very
special craftsmen. Their work brought them in contact with
"elemental substances": fire, air, earth and water. They
served the chiefs and kings. The tools they made for
agriculture helped their people produce more food; the weapons
they made equipped soldiers to defend the king or to attack an
enemy. They also used fine metals like gold and silver to make
jewelry, which would advertise the wearer's wealth.
Wax" casting techniques in Africa were and are used to make
jewelry, weights to measure gold in the marketplace and
statues at the royal court.
(see also presentation 7 this page)
BENIN WARRIOR, Early 17th century, Nigeria, Bronze,
Metropolitan Museum of Art, Reproduction
CROWNED HEAD OF AN ON, 12th or 15th century, Ife, The
Detroit Institute of Arts, "Treasures of Ancient Nigeria"
|By about the 9th century, in tropical Africa,
sophisticated lost was casting techniques had evolved., and by
the 12th century, the most naturalistic style known for any
tropical African era had appeared. Wood carvings were
certainly made in the latter period too, but no examples have
survived. In Benin sculpture the head is usually greatly
exaggerated, reflecting the view prevalent in much of Africa
that it is the center of being and the source of power and
intelligence. This distortion was well as the hieratic
arrangement of the group indicates that symbolism has greater
importance to the artist that photographic realism. The Benin
and Yoruba became the most accomplished in the art of figural
cast sculptures. The power of these kingdoms depended upon
agriculture and the defense of armies. Bronze can be thought
of as a proper symbol of power.
CONTEMPORARY ART OF SENEGAL, by Abdoulaye NDiaye.
LOST WAX CASTING, photograph.
AFRICAN TOY, Coconut shell and woven reeds turtle, material
|This was probably hand-made by a contemporary
craftsman. Details on the shell are wood-burned. In many
African, and other cultures, the turtle is a symbol of
resilience or staying power.