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A Dogon Figure, "bras levées"

Figure with raised arms, "bras levées"
Dogon, Mali
Mit Sockel / with base
Wood. H 36,5 cm.

- according to H. and M. Zimmer: Galerie Maria Wyss, Basel. (1960s).
- Helmut (1931-2021) and Marianne Zimmer, Zurich.

The Dogon people are settled in the area of the Hombori Mountains. The small communities living in scattered villages are the successors of the Tellem, whose still existing dwellings can be found high up in the inaccessible cliffs of the Bandiagara rocks, which were declared a World Heritage Site in 1989.

The Dogon are best known in Western culture for their art. Their works derive from and relate to the fascinating mythology of the ethnic group. The unmistakably geometric, reduced to sparse formal language makes their cult and everyday objects exemplary examples of traditional African art.

The Dogon worshipped altar figures, most of which were dedicated to ancestors - real and mythical. The figures were considered a link between the visible and the invisible world, by means of which the owner could contact the spiritual beings.

The standing androgynous figure is also called "bras levées" in non-Francophone regions. The position and especially the posture of the arms is usually interpreted as a gesture of requesting rain, although recent research has considered other explanations.

Further reading:
Homberger, Lorenz (1995). The art of the Dogon. Zurich: Museum Rietberg.

CHF 3 000 / 6 000
EUR 3 000 / 6 000

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A Dogon Figure, "bras levées"

Estimate 3 000 - 6 000 CHF
Starting price 1500 CHF

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For sale on Thursday 29 Sep - 18:00 (CEST)
basel, Switzerland
Hammer Auktionen AG
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Seated figure, "kronkronbua"Koma-Bulsa, GhanaMit Sockel / with baseTerrakotta. H 27,5 cm. Provenance:Andreas Vontobel (1931-2011), Waltalingen.kronkronbua = "children from earlier times".In the 1980s, the first figures of this style were found in fired clay in the Upper West Region in Ghana, in the area now inhabited by the Koma (e.g. in Yikpabongo, Tantuosi, Wumobri) and the Bulsa (Builsa). Thermoluminescence age determinations dated the objects from the 13th to 18th centuries CE.Karl Ferdinand Schädler described the new discovery of this culture in 1987 as follows: "Some of them look as if they came from the Bandiagara gorges and were products of the Dogon. But these are only a few. Most of these terracottas of a culture of which nothing is known look rather as if they came from Somarzo or as if they had sprung from the fantasy world of a Hieronymus Bosch: Heads whose braincases are pointed or which are hollowed out in the shape of a cup in reverse, with spectacle-like eyes or with ears which, like two handles, are attached to the back of the head. Mouths that, separated from some face, unite with other mouths to form a new "speaking for itself" being; conversely, faces that have also united with others and - provided with arms and legs - now seem to come directly from the underworld.It seems idle to puzzle over what world of thought and ideas these figures, heads, and objects sprang from-whether they were fashioned as funerary, ancestral, or cult figures. Perhaps it is even reassuring to know that not every newly discovered secret in Africa can be solved immediately, that - at least for some time - a culture cannot be dissected like a corpse: Because neither oral traditions nor archaeological byproducts provide any clues.Instead, one should perhaps be content to admire, on the one hand, the genius of the design and, on the other, the powerful expressive expression inherent in these sculptures. Judging by these two criteria and by the external appearance of the objects, it seems to be a matter of different styles, if not different cultures, which either followed each other or - which also seems possible - were created completely independently one after the other in the same area.One of the styles shows a mannerist character: the deliberately displaced facial features, which often give the figures, mostly seated figures with necklaces, dignity signs or upper arm knives, an uncanny, transcendental, sometimes even malignant expression - princes of another world. As with many of the apparently singularly designed heads, which end in a usually pointed neck, the heads of the figures are also frequently hollowed out in the shape of a cup. The hands usually rest on the knees (occasionally quite unmotivatedly on one of the shoulders) and the genitals - the majority are male - are often oversized and clearly modeled. The individually worked heads are usually much larger in design than the figures; they are also usually coarser in execution and much more primitive and direct in style.Another style, expressed mainly in the heads of theriomorphic creatures, often shows a mouth wide open, apparently screaming, and then reminiscent of Gothic gargoyles. A special attention must have been paid by the people of this culture to Janus-shaped heads and, moreover, to multi-headed beings. The former, conceived as single sculptures, sometimes take on a phallic character because of the tapered heads (they also run straight at the bottom, not conical like the "hollow heads" found pinned around tombs). The latter multi-headed beings, like the Janus-shaped single heads, also have conical pointed heads; the body in these, however, of which up to four personages may be found rendered in one sculpture, is quite rudimentarily shaped as a rectangular block, with only indicated limbs and genitals.What else will come to light from this area in northern Ghana, now inhabited by the Koma (also Komba, Konkomba, Bekpokpak, etc.)? Was the settlement from which the finds come also a transhipment point for goods - kola nuts from the coast, gold, salt, European goods, etc.? - like Salaga at the end of the previous century, which was on the way to