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Asen : Forged Memories of Iron in Dahomey, Vodun Art in Geneva

Sculptures from the Republic of Benin and Togo until 21 May 2019.

An exhibition focusing on Asen forged iron altars, specifically from the former kingdom of Dahomey - in Musée Barbier-Mueller, Geneva.

3 Janvier 2019 - 21:30

These striking sculptures fashioned by village artisans of the southern area of the Republic of Benin and Togo, constitute a kind of portable altar located on the grounds of the asenxo (asen house), where deceased members of the family are commemorated in annual ceremonies. The living communicate with the dead and interrogate them while offering food or ritual libations to their ancestors. The scenes depicted on these altars are fascinating, mirroring daily life and showing traditions of these peoples, these include planting and harvesting or rites of passage.

It comes as no surprise that these altars are closely identified with healing, protection or divination, as well as transferring knowledge from the spirit world to the earthly world in the Vodun temples.

This function increased in importance as royal courts grew in power in Dahomey from the 17th to the 19th centuries. For example, in the Dahomey (Fon) court in Abomey, each king, and the woman who personified the ruler after his death, was associated with a distinct asen. Royal asen were brought out during annual local traditional rites and positioned near the djeho (spirit house of the king). These were initially covered by a cloth. After removing the cloth, libations and food such as yam, corn and beans in gourd containers, were offered as sacrifices accompanied by incantations or songs.

The majority of the asen featured in the exhibition were created in the coastal port city of Ouidah, many dating from the mid to late 19th century, earlier than those in Abomey, largely destroyed by the 1892-94 French colonial war. New forms, commissioned by King Agoli Agbothen between 1894 and 1900 from the royal guild of jewelers and smiths, the Hountondji family blacksmith guild, replaced those destroyed.

The catalogue was supervised by Dr. Suzanne Preston Blier, curator, expert on the subject who helped choose the forged iron altars on display, from the museum’s vast collection.
Asen. Master of the Curved Horn Ram. Ouidah, Republic of Benin. Mid-late 19th century. Iron. H. 154 cm; diam. 33.5 cm. Inv. 1010-67. Musée Barbier-Mueller. Photo Luis Lourenço.
Asen. Master of the Curved Horn Ram. Ouidah, Republic of Benin. Mid-late 19th century. Iron. H. 154 cm; diam. 33.5 cm. Inv. 1010-67. Musée Barbier-Mueller. Photo Luis Lourenço.

The Barbier-Mueller Museum
Rue Jean Calvin, 10, 1204 Geneva

Open 365 days of the year from 11am to 5pm
tel. +41 22 12 02 07
email : for group reservations.
Adults : 8 francs with many special reductions.

Kunang Helmi-Picard
Fatma Kunang Helmi was born in Yogjakarta, Indonesia. Education in Switzerland, Australia and... En savoir plus sur cet auteur

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