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Unidentified photographer (Senegal)
Portrait of a Woman
1910 (ca, taken) 1975 (print)
Gelatin silver print, from glass negative
Metropolitan Museum of Art
Gift of Susan Mullin Vogel, 2015, Accession Number: 2015.499.14a, b
Included in the "In and Out of the Studio: Photographic Portraits from West Africa" exhibition at the Metropolitan Museum of Art (31 August 2015–3 January 2016).
Curatorial description (Accessed: 7 October 2015)
In a culture in which the body had to be covered by clouds of crisp textiles, the face, hands, and feet were often all that was visible. Here, the woman’s hands, resting on top of one another on her abdomen, play an active role in the composition. The gesture allows the sitter to display an extensive array of jewelry: a silver ring, filigree-work bracelets, two necklaces, earrings, and golden pendants decorating her coiffure, which is set in a style called Nguuka. Created using black wool to produce two symmetrical voluminous spheres held by a textile on top of the head, this hairdo became popular in the first decades of the twentieth century among married women.
Few glass negatives have survived in Senegal from the early twentieth century. African art specialist Susan Mullin Vogel acquired this negative in Dakar in 1975. New York photographer Jerry L. Thompson produced the accompanying gelatin silver print that same year.