Tellem Sculpture of a Seated Woman


1200 AD to 1400 AD


10.75″ (27.3cm) high





Gallery Location



The sculptural arts of western Africa owe a great deal to the shadowy peoples known as the Tellem. When the Dogon moved from their original heartland into the Bandiagara escarpment area of Mali, the remains of Tellem culture were to be found in many of the caves and shelters along the escarpment edge. Comparatively little is known of their day-to-day life, but their expressive sculptures are among the rarest and most influential in African art history. Most known works are in wood and represent either kneeling female figures or standing figures of either sex with their arms elevated- believed to represent an appeal for rain or perhaps supernatural assistance. This basalt figure displays the angular and expressionistic characteristics of both Tellem and Dogon sculpture, with the body bisected by a number of planes that become naturalistic body features. The face is likewise angular and linear with protuberant eyes and an arrow-form nose that is also found in many Dogon works. The head is surmounted by an ornate hat with elements joining the breasts and upper mid- back. The figure, unusually, is seated on a low stool- a marker of status in many later societies- and a smaller second figure is mounted, facing outwards, on the individual's back. This motif is common in Bamana/Bambara and Dogon works among others. Her right breast is being suckled by an infant that is lain across her left arm and onto her lap. This beautifully carved and important figure is a major discovery and an exceptional opportunity for a serious collector.

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