Fragment of a granary door or shutter

Dogon peoples
late 19th or early 20th century
more object details

General Description

Dogon blacksmiths also served as sculptors carving wooden doors for houses, granaries, and shrines and decorating them with symbolic motifs drawn from Dogon mythology and religious beliefs, including depictions of primordial ancestors (nommo) and animals, especially the lizard.

This weathered hardwood fragment is from a door or a shutter for a free-standing granary made of puddled earth and topped with a thatched-covered roof. It is missing the posts that acted as hinges and were inserted into matching holes bored into the granary's doorframe. Doors of such structures were secured with a bolt lock that was affixed to the door's proper right side or sealed with mud and pulled open with a knotted cord. The dimensions of this fragment and the hole just beneath the lizard's elbow suggest the Dallas example was a shutter of the former type.

This door is decorated with a pair of lizards carved in low relief. The motif gives life to the Dogon belief that humans are bisexual, like the primordial ancestral couple in their creation myth. In Dogon culture, gender is settled at the time of circumcision, which is part of a youth's coming-of-age rites. The shape of the sun lizard is likened to the male and female genitals and, as such, is a sexual symbol.

Excerpt from

Roslyn A. Walker, The Arts of Africa at the Dallas Museum of Art (New Haven and London: Yale University Press, 2009), 220-221.