The Status of Dogon Visual Culture

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

Dogon priest’s home, Mali, 1986. Photo by Mary Kujawski Roberts and Allen F. Roberts. Submitted by Allen F. Roberts.

Dogon architecture possesses a distinctly organic quality, in part because the repeated plastering of walls after each rainy season gradually rounds and produces curves rather than straight lines; in part, as Marcel Griaule (1970) suggested, because dwellings may be considered anthropomorphic. That is, a home has a human-like essence and power that affects its inhabitants. The layout of households and names for particular buildings and places follow human anatomy, to make the relationship obvious. This photograph showing the home of a hogon or priest of the Dogon religion was taken just after the first rain of the season, when its inhabitants were in their fields preparing to plant their cereal staples. Ritual materials are held in a vessel in a tall wooden support on the leftside of the photograph. Y-shaped ladders provide access to two levels of roof terraces. Many of these utilitarian yet evocative objects, often with almost glassy patina from the polishing of countless hands and footsteps, have been swept into the international art market in recent years.