Circular wooden stool with four bands of double figures
This stool from southern Mali depicts a row of paired male and female figures with upraised arms supporting the seat. Symbolically, these figures are ancestors, shown as literally holding up the individual who sits on this stool. A very similar idea is seen in the prestige stools carved by an unidentified Songye artist from the Democratic Republic of the Congo (1972.1.1 and 1972.1.2). In the Songye objects, a single figure holds up the seat of each stool.
While the Dogon and Songye cultures are geographically disparate and have very little cultural connection, the concept of using a human figure as a support for a stool is widespread across the continent. Elegant and expensive stools like these would only be commissioned by wealthy and important members of society. Kings, chiefs, and senior leaders would have stools made for their personal use. Akin to the European concept of a throne, stools symbolized a person of high rank. They could be modest in size, like those seen here, or enormous, such as those carved by Bamum artists for Sultan Njoya in Cameroon.
Susan E. Kart '96, Assistant Professor of the Arts of Africa, Lehigh University (2018)
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