The University of Iowa University of Iowa

The Status of Dogon Visual Culture

by Allen F. Roberts
University of California, Los Angeles (formerly University of Iowa)

Mali and Burkina Faso; Dogon artist

Ancestor couple


H. 75 cm (30")

University of Iowa Stanley Museum of Art, The Stanley Collection of African Art, X1986.356

This sculpture demonstrates how fundamental affection, equality, and interdependence are between Dogon men and women. It may have been placed in a village shrine for its protective powers (Roy 1992), or displayed at the funerals of prestigious men (Ezra 1988). What more can be said of it? French scholars (e.g. Griaule 1970) might point to the dualistic origins of humanity, as explained through Dogon cosmology. A structuralist could say that the man's horizontal arm interlocks with the figures' vertical lines to form a checkerboard—a key symbol of both divine and human order, as underscored by numerology: the "male" three of the vertical arms, and the "female" four of the legs, are joined in the two opposite but equal personages as "the ideal of pairing essential for fertility and productivity in Dogon thought" (Barbara DeMott cited in Roy 1992).