Have you ever seen a Dogon door? They are at the top of the list of artifacts tourists and collectors look for when visiting Dogon country. There are two types- granary doors, which is shown at left; and house doors, which are larger. Don’t be misled however, if you come across a granary door and wonder how people used such small entries. Granary doors are placed on the square shaped towers Dogons use to store grains. The doors are small to reduce the risk of predators and other invaders from getting in, or easily removing the grain. the largest granaries are for millet, and it is stored with the grain on the seed head. So the door just has to be big enough to reach in and pull out a handful of millet stalks. House doors are larger- usually 70 x 50 cm, but still small by western standards. This is probably due to the scarcity of wood available. Another interesting aspect of these doors are the locks. They come with a wooden key which looks like a stick with some nails sticking through it. They actually work really well. You can see an example of the lock on the door shown above.
If you are interested in getting a Dogon door, they are widely produced by artisans in Mali for the tourist market. They will even treat it with ash, carbon from cooking fires, shea butter, and animal urine so that you too can have an artifact that looks like a real antique. I hear that there is a warehouse in Bamako where they keep a trove of them. This might be it (or it might be a scene from the Raiders of the Lost Ark.)
Doors are significant, as they represent the threshold to another space another place. It seems that there are many doors to Dogon Country, which are not physical, but metaphorical. Standing on the edge of the Bandiagara cliffs, looking down into the expanse of the Dogon Plains, you do feel like you are passing from one distinct place to another world. There are many places, due to the need to descend the cliff and having the vista suddenly appear, where it feels like you have just gone through a door. My favorite is just below Dourou on the way to Guimini where you descend a series of carved logs that pass for ladders to carry you down the cliff, but first you have to twist your way through a short rock tunnel to get to the cliff edge. When you emerge from the tunnel, you see the top of the ladder and look down at the base of the cliff a hundred feet below. Beyond you see the terraced levels of the cliff base going down to the sandy plains.
Ibou’s most ambitious projects have also been doors, but on a completely different scale. He has produced two sets of compound doors. These are the doors that fit into the wall surrounding a compound and they are enormous. In Bandiagara, one set is the entry way to the Hotel Falaise . These doors have been designed to roll out on metal rollers, otherwise they would be too heavy to move. The center of each door features a Dogon dancer, surrounded by rows of ancestor figures. The arch above is a frieze of a Dogon village. Comparing these doors with the traditional doors at the link above, Ibou’s realistic portrayal of the dancers in full motion and the Dogon village above is a complete departure from traditional iconography. His introduction of these contemporary elements and the adaptation of the form to a grander scale sets this work apart from that of the village carver.
Ibou completed a second set of doors while living in Ghana, from wooden panels shipped from Mali. When they arrived, it took six men to carry each panel from the truck to the workshop. when Ibou finished carving, two men were able to load them again. I will add pictures of these extraordinary doors when they are available.