The figure, probably used as a pendant, sits on his haunches with the hands resting on the knees. He has an elongated, angular-shaped head with a beard, thick lips, a prominent, triangular nose, and ‘coffee bean’ eyes.
The sides of the body and waist are engraved with scarification marks.
Ancient small cast copper figures with features similar to the example here have been found in the Jenne region and so it is possible that this image also is from Jenne.
The figure has a splendid, worn patina. The contours have become softened and rounded from wear and handling. The surface has a very pleasing and varying brown colour.
Dogon blacksmiths (or at least the blacksmiths who worked on behalf of the Dogon – they might have been itinerant and serviced several groups) were highly accomplished at using the lost wax process to cast small figures such as this example. The copper itself was brought into the Dogon areas via trans-Saharan trade networks.
The Dogon mostly were farmers. Their ancestors came from southwest Mali and northeast Guinea that was home to the 13th century Mali empire. They migrated after the empire’s collapse to the cliffs of the Bandiagara plateau, which provided good protection from slave raiders coming from the desert. The arrival of the French in 1893 saw the end of the slave raids and the Dogon subsequently expanded to the plains around the plateau. Traditionally the Dogon had elaborate cosmological beliefs and spectacular rituals. Communication with the gods was achieved through a variety of means including through sacrifices.
The image here has a beautiful, quiet simplicity and a splendid, worn patina.
See a related example in the Metropolitan Museum of Art.
Brincard, M. (ed.), The Art of Metal in Africa, The African American Institute, 1982.
Ezra, K., Art of the Dogon: Selections from the Lester Wunderman Collection, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1988.