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Asen Altar

Asem serve as monuments to the dead, placed in family shrines, where they become the focus of interaction with ancestors. This asem is from Ouidah, a coastal city whose trade with Europeans (mainly Portuguese) was flourishing as early as the seventeenth century. The contact is apparent here: the central figure, which represents the deceased, wears a stovepipe hat, smokes a pipe, sits on a straight-backed chair, and stands beneath an umbrella—all symbols that derive their force from association with powerful European traders.


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