During the 20th century, the society and visual culture of people living along the steep, rocky Bandiagara escarpment in present-day Mali captured the imagination of Europeans and Americans. The Dogon—as they have come to be known through a large corpus of colonial literature, ethnographic fieldwork, exhibitions, films, and tour guides—occupy a prominent position in the West’s history of the African continent. They are internationally celebrated for their dynamic performances of surreal masks, deftly carved figural sculptures, iconic architecture, and rich cosmology.
ReCollecting Dogon showcases over 25 examples of artistry from the Bandiagara region acquired by John and Dominique de Menil during the mid-20th century. The sculptures, masks, necklaces, and other works by “unknown” artists not only suggest the significance of art to daily life among Dogon peoples, they evoke formidable legacies of colonialism and the limitations of representing Dogon peoples through objects collected by and for foreigners. Curated by Paul R. Davis, ReCollecting Dogon strives to destabilize the authority of ethnographic display by including 1930s ethnographic audio recordings simulated by Marcel Griaule, photographs of artworks taken by Walker Evans (1935) and Mario Carrieri (1976), and other archival works that recall the long history of encounters and transactions shaping current understanding of Dogon peoples. Recently commissioned masks, videos by Sérou Dolo of recent masking events, and contemporary works by artists Amahigueré Dolo and Alaye Kene Atô present vibrant, living visual culture and serve as counterpoints to historical representations of Dogon peoples.
The exhibition features significant loans from the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston; the Musée National du Mali in Bamako; the Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique-Musée de l’Homme Audio Archives in Paris; The African Center and private collections in New York City; and participating Malian artist Amahigueré Dolo.
This exhibition is supported in part by Humanities Texas, the state affiliate of the National Endowment for the Humanities. Additional support comes from the Cultural Service of the French Embassy in Houston; Clare Casademont and Michael Metz; Janet and Paul Hobby; Susan and Francois de Menil; Franci Neely; and the City of Houston.