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Seated Figure (Djenné peoples)

Video transcript

This figure was created in the twelfth century. It’s a terracotta created in a society that disappeared about 1400 AD. We have so little evidence about that culture. The sculpture itself is the evidence. It seemed to have been quite an egalitarian society. There were no rulers. This figure really shows this. It’s a humble person. The humanity appears so naked. It’s stripped of everything and it’s just this pure, human emotion that everybody can relate to. If you start turning around the figure, this back is filled with these odd markings that really reminds you of the flesh of the individual, and how it can be marked by diseases and time, or marked on purpose. The posture is at the center of the feeling that it is expressing. It is so compact. The figure is folded into himself, almost built around that empty space between the torso and these intertwined limbs at the front. Is it bending over? Is it more in a static position of contemplation and lost in its own thoughts, breathing hard, possibly? It’s almost like a child’s pose of being distressed and then curling up in a corner. It is really expressing sadness and possibly grief. It is a bundle of emotions. The face, tilted as it is towards the side, is so expressive, with the mouth open and the nostrils marked and the ears marked, so it just has all these apertures almost as if it is breathing and hearing what is around it. What is so important to me is what it tells us about history. A humble, simple individual tells us about an entire civilization. In the end the whole figure is a reminder of humanity at large.