If you're seeing this message, it means we're having trouble loading external resources on our website.

If you're behind a web filter, please make sure that the domains *.kastatic.org and *.kasandbox.org are unblocked.

Main content
Current time:0:00Total duration:5:23

Video transcript

we're in the Metropolitan Museum of Art looking at the spectacular sculpture of to figure seated side-by-side this Dogon couple this Dogon couple was probably found in a shrine in the Dogon village and the black color comes from the fact that it's been given several offerings of sacrifices this could have been blood this could have been milk this could have been alcohol or palm oil and if you look carefully at the sculpture you can see where little bits of oil is still coming to the surface the figures look almost identical at first glance we can see subtle differences between the male and the female but the big marking is the fact that the man has his arm around the woman putting one's arm around a woman would not have been done in Dogon culture in public so this obviously has some symbolic significance this is a really important clue that what we're looking at is not contemporary Dogon Society but is very likely a representation of the mythic history of the Dogon people these could either be communal ancestors that would have been worshiped in a shrine or they could represent the premortal couple or one of the Nommo pair that the Dogon talk about in terms of their oral myth but we have to be careful when we try to read this couple through the lens of Dogon origin mythology because different researchers have understood those argent myths in different ways ethnographers came to the Dogon at different times they visited different villages and they came with their own set of methodologies and beliefs and assumptions these are people that live in a broad area it's a dispersed community and so there will be real variation even in understanding among the Dogon themselves in addition to that the Dogon differentiate between the types of speech that they offer depending on who they're talking to so for example front speech might be what a non initiated person might learn about Dogon cosmology verses back speech or clear speech which is a much deeper level of understanding that would only be appropriate for someone who was a member of society and usually male there's an interesting analogy between front and back speech to looking at this sculpture we can look at it with relatively uninformed eyes and appreciate its formal qualities but we have to really understand Dogen cosmology to understand what this sculpture meant to them we have this beautifully balanced couple with these cylindrical torsos and long ovoid heads and noses that are almost a shape of arrows the distinguishing feature here between the male and the female is subtle so we have a beard on the man and that littler Brett for the woman but both have the herniated belly buttons both have breasts that are prominent and both rest their hands in their laps the biggest difference in who these figures are and their roles is really depicted in the back a clear distinction is not only one arm wrapped around the female figure but what they're wearing on their backs the woman has a cylindrical form that is a child that clings to her back that is almost identical in scale and shape to a quiver that would have held arrows for the man so we have this idea of childbirth of nurturing of the procreative and we have the idea of hunting we get a sense here of the complementarity between the man's role and the woman's role in this society now if we look at the stool in which they're sitting we see four female figures that support the stool itself those four female figures and the four legs of the couple create the number eight which actually relates back to a very important part of the cosmology the four no more pairs who are responsible for a whole host of issues that form Dogon life the way that it is today one of the aspects that I find most interesting is that kind of soft quality to the turns of their body they seem to me almost boneless and that would be supported by the idea that this is the no more pair they were described as watery beings that hadn't yet taken on human bodies and they lived in a world where there was Union and also conflict between the sky and the earth the earth not a solid place but a water a marshy place and this disorder requires balance requires order and proportion which we find time and again and Dogon sculpture well when I look at this sculpture it is all about structure and order the figures are perfectly vertical and the way that he raises his arm and shifts his shoulder is one of the only parts of this sculpture where the pure symmetry is broken and arm is touching her breasts and his left hand is touching his penis so again as we saw with the back there is a need to depict the nurturing procreative and fertile aspects of the male and female complementarity so is this a couple or could this relate to another Dogon story in which the sky the father of the Dogon breathes life into man and woman by allowing the man to lay down in his shadow and the woman to lay down on top of the man creating a human being that has the characteristics of both sexes so that within each individual there was a duality between the male and the female that needs to be in harmony with one another and that's where so much of the beauty of the sculpture comes from is this tension between the way that they mirror each other and yet are each distinct from each other you