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13 / The Body

Man’s Corset
Man’s Corset
Artist / Origin Dinka artist, Sudan
Region: Africa
Date Second half of the 20th century
Material Beads, fiber, leather
Dimensions H: 30 in. (76.2 cm.)
Location The Newark Museum, Newark, NJ
Credit Courtesy of the Newark Museum

expert perspective

Christa ClarkeSenior Curator of Arts of Africa and the Americas, Newark Museum

Additional Resources

Allman, Jean, ed. Fashioning Africa: Power and the Politics of Dress. Bloomington, IN: Indiana University Press, 2004.

“Power Dressing: Men’s Fashion and Prestige in Africa (October 19, 2005 – February 5, 2006).” The Newark Museum Web site. http://www.newarkmuseum.org/PowerDressing.html.

“Sudan Past and Present.” In Online Tours. The British Museum Web site. http://www.britishmuseum.org/explore/online_tours.aspx.

Man’s Corset

» Dinka artist, Sudan

In many African societies, the human body is recognized as a significant medium and support for the arts.

Dance, body modification, and dress are all highly valued. The Dinka people of southern Sudan lead a highly mobile life as cattle herders. It is important, therefore, that their possessions be portable. Their artistic production centers on wearable objects and body decoration. Materials used in these arts include glass beads, cow hide, shells, ostrich eggshells, ivory, and metal. The colors and patterns in these ornaments are highly communicative, identifying the wearer’s age, social status, and level of prosperity.

This corset is a man’s garment. Traditionally, Dinka men do not cover their bodies beyond these rows of beads; a corset like this would be the entire outfit of a Dinka herdsman. The red and black rows that make up the majority of the beadwork indicate that this corset was worn by a man between fifteen and twenty-five years old. The rigid vertical strip that runs down the back represents his wealth. Here, it rises well above the shoulders, an indication to other Dinka people that the man’s family had quite a large herd.

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