Allen Wardwell, Three African Traditions: The Art of the Dogon, Fang, and Songye, Greenwich, 1999, p. 6, cat. 2
Bernard de Grunne, "A Great Dogon Artist: The Master of Ogol", Tribal Art, Hors-Serie/Special Issue #2: Chefs-d'œuvre DOGON Masterworks, 2011, pp. 28 and 35, fig. 13
In his preface to Hélène Leloup's important monograph Dogon Statuary, William Rubin, Director Emeritus of the Museum of Modern Art in New York and organizer of the 1984 landmark exhibition "Primitivism" in 20th Century Art, notes (Rubin in Leloup 1994: 17): "Paradoxically, the art of [the Dogon people...] is closer in spirit to modern sculpture than almost anything else in Africa. The plasticity of the greatest Dogon carvings must be compared – in quality as well as nature – with that of Brancusi or (the Cubist) Lipchitz. I say 'paradoxically' because (except for possible rare stray pieces) Dogon sculpture was unknown to that pioneer generation of twentieth century modernists (except in some cases at the end of their careers). One cannot but imagine how the Brancusi or Lipchitz (or, for that matter, the Picasso or Matisse) of 1915 would have savored the great Dogon pieces we know today. How much more than most of the African material then at hand these sculptures would have confirmed those modernists in the daring solutions they were undertaking."
And Kate Ezra (1988: 15) continues: "The Dogon captured the imagination of European and American artists and intellectuals in the 1930s with the austere beauty and isolation of their environment, the power of their sculpture, and the richness of their rituals, but we have still not fully understood the history and meaning of their art. The Dogon live in one of West Africa's most spectacular landscapes. Their home is the Bandiagara Escarpment, a row of cliffs stretching 125 miles from southwest to northeast, parallel to the Niger River. The steep cliffs, some of them almost two thousand feet high, are cut in massive blocks separated by natural gorges, their sharp-edged faces punctuated by caves. The cliffs make access to Dogon villages difficult, and even though the center of Dogon country is only about 90 miles from the ancient commercial city of Jenne [Djenne], visitors to Dogon country since the beginning of the twentieth century have stressed the sense of isolation and remoteness that pervades the cliffs. According to oral traditions, the Dogon chose to settle on the cliffs precisely because of their inaccessibility. They have provided a place of refuge from attacks by neighbouring ethnic groups, which over the past five hundred years have included the Mossi, Songhai [Songhay] and Fulani."
Dogon statuary is linked to "a vast body of myths pertaining to the creation of the universe, the struggle between order and disorder, and the place of mankind within it" (Ezra 1988: 16). Human figures often represented ancestors or mythical heroes such as the founders of a village or lineage. Figures like the offered lot have been identified as portraits of Ya Kamma, "the great female ancestor of the Dogon – Wife (sister) of Kamma (the first ancestor)" (Cissé in Falgayrettes-Leveau 2000: 120).
The offered lot belongs to a group of seventeen figures which all share a series of features (see de Grunne 2011: 16-35). All are of female gender and in standing position with bent legs, long slender torso framed by openwork arms bent at the elbows. The vertical trunk is rendered within a more or less elliptical diameter from which conical breasts and a similar-shaped umbilicus protrude. The head features a T-shaped nose, C-shaped ears, a thin cylindrical protrusion below the chin representing a labret as was fashion among Dogon women. The labret is counter-balanced by a dorsal braid falling down the nape of the neck. Several of these sculptures are in major institutional collections including the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York (inv. no. "1977.394.20", previously in the collection of Lester Wunderman, published in Ezra 1988: 53, fig. 14); Rietberg Museum, Zurich (inv. no. "RAF 252", previously in the collections of Georges de Miré and Eduard von der Heydt, exhibited in 1935 at the Museum of Modern Art's exhibition African Negro Art, published in Sweeney 1935: no. 17); Musée du Quai Branly, Paris (previously Musée de l'Homme, inv. no. "1935.60.371", published in Leloup 2011: 285, fig. 51); and The National Museum of African Art, Smithsonian Institution, Washington, D.C. (inv. no. "2005-6-38", previously in the collection of Paul and Ruth Tishman, published in Kreamer 2007: 83, fig. 22).
Based on the aforementioned similarities it has been suggested (de Grunne 2011: 28) that sixteen out of seventeen works are creations by a single artist who, based on the location in which one of the figures has been collection, should be called "The Master of Ogol." However, the dissimilarities between several of these works (e.g., the treatment and position of the arms, hands and legs, the presence, position and carving of the armlets, the rendering of the eyes and coiffure) are so variable that it seems more appropriate to speak of artists from the "Ogol Circle," in the sense of a workshop tradition rather than a single artist.
The offered lot is distinguished by the extreme angularity of the arm, elbow, and wrist (rendered in ninety-degree angles) which is not seen in any other of the seventeen works by Ogol artists. The absence of eyes which is shared by a figure previously in the Bronson Collection (see ibid: 23, fig. 7) and possibly also by the figures in the Rietberg Museum (ibid: 16, fig. 1) and Dapper Museum (ibid: 30, fig. 17), although the surface condition of both figures is such that this cannot be determined with absolute certainty. The incised cross-hatched pattern at the bottom edge of the crested coiffure is a feature that is also seen in the figure at the National Museum of African Art, Smithsonian Institution (ibid: 22, fig. 6).
The largest group of figures by artists from the Ogol Circle that was ever assembled in private hands was that of Paul and Rosemary Desjardins, both professors of philosophy at Haverford College, Pennsylvania. In addition to the offered lot, the Desjardins owned three other works by Ogol artists (cf. de Grunne 2011: 34-35, figs. 4, 8, 14). After years of study, Paul Desjardins was excited when he was able to acquire the offered lot and also advanced his own theory on the iconographic meaning of Ogol figures in general (letter to Mr. and Mrs. J.J. Klejman, February 15, 1971, pp. 1-2): "As a working hypothesis, I'd venture that their being brought up from the house to the terrace at times of funerals has to do with the theme of death and resurrection, not merely of a particular corpse, but of La Terre, which receives the Word from Heaven as the fields receive the millet, the mother the male sperm, or the tribe the law. She represents, I suspect, the act of receiving and of being resurrected or born anew. Her knees are bent as she rises (in the larger figure [= the offered lot] the dynamic movement is suggested further by her slight turning to the side). [...] One of the greatest things about the large N'gol figure [= the offered lot] is the way it manages to suggest interiority of vision in leaving out the eyes, a conventional device which isn't always successful. Also I find the thighs and breasts convincingly human: they both arouse and sublimate energies; one gets to encounter in her more than just a human being [..., she] really manifests sublimity. [...] When you showed us the large one, you were providential: it's the chance of a lifetime..."
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