|Idealized pairings have been an enduring concern of sculptors in many sub-Saharan African cultures. This exhibition examines the theme through approximately 60 works of sculpture in wood, bronze, terracotta, and beadwork, dating from the 12th to the 20th century. The examples are drawn from some 30 distinct African traditions, including those of the Dogon, Lobi, Baule, Senufo, Yoruba, Chamba, Jukun, Chokwe, Hemba, Songye, Luba, Mangbetu, and Sakalava. The astonishingly rich and diverse forms of expression considered have been selected for their aesthetic attributes as well as their specific cultural significance. The earliest works displayed are an array of seated male and female couples in terracotta and bronze from the ancient urban center of Djenne-Jeno in present-day Mali. These sculptures, likely dating from the 12th century, were created to be placed on altars and carried as personal amulets. In later works from the region, created between the 16th and 20th centuries by Dogon sculptors, imagery of couples relates at once to Creation, productivity, and the fundamental interdependence and complementarity of man and woman. The elemental abstract graphic motif is a pervasive element of the iconography of Dogon artifacts, ranging from freestanding sculpture created for ancestral altars to carved granary doors and locks. Pair or Janus representations, as seen in many of the traditions that are featured, reflect the object’s role in bridging human and ancestral realms in order to elicit divine insights into the human condition. Across central Africa, paired figures are an integral aspect of the insignia of leaders that comments upon the divinely ordained nature of kingship.
The Metropolitan Museum of Art