20th Century


Benin, Ouidah, Africa


Iron, steel, wood, paint, sacrificial material
64 x 17 in. (162.6 x 43.2 cm)

Object Number



An asen is an iron altar honoring a dead person in the Fon culture of West Africa. The family of the deceased would periodically place food offerings upon it or pour libations over it.

This asen was made in the coastal city of Ouidah, infamous as a slave port for France, Britain, Holland, and Portugal. However, by the end of the slave trade in the 19th century its most important inhabitants were Afro-Brazilians, freed slaves returning from the Portuguese plantations of Brazil.

The Brazilian influence is seen in the tableau of objects upon the platform. The commemorated person sits on an ornate chair instead of an African stool, wearing a European stovepipe hat (a status symbol indicating the wealth and standing of the deceased). Christian crosses suggest a familiarity with Portuguese Catholicism which now coexists alongside older Fon beliefs shown here as symbolic messages. For example, the banana tree, which dies after producing fruit, but is then replaced by a new shoot, suggests the continuity of the family. The lion is a symbol of the king of Dahomey and the chameleon atop the tree signifies transformation. The tethered goat is a sacrificial animal whose blood will "feed" the vodun spirits. The asen thus functions as a ritual object for the veneration of ancestors within the family.

Credit Line

Ex coll. William S. Arnett


Asen: Iron Altars of the Fon People of Benin (travelling show), Emory University Museum of Art and Archaeology, October 2 - December 21, 1985, Museum of Natural History, Anniston Alabama, January 9 - February 9, 1986, Grinter Galleries, Center for African Studies, University of Florida Gainesville, Febrary 17 - March 14, 1986|
Divine Intervention: African Art and Religion, Michael C. Carlos Museum, February 5 - December 4, 2011|
MCCM African Gallery, December 5, 2011 - December 1, 2014
Edna G. Bay. Asen: Iron Altars of the Fon People of Benin. Atlanta: Emory University Museum of Art and Archaeology (1985), 36|
Edna G. Bay, "On Ouidah Asen," African Arts (Spring 2007): 6-7.|
MCCM Newsletter, March - May 2008.|
Michael C. Carlos Museum: Highlights of the Collections (Atlanta: Michael C. Carlos Museum, 2011), 98.


© Michael C. Carlos Museum, Emory University. Photo by Bruce M. White, 2006.
This image is provided by the Michael C. Carlos Museum of Emory University, who retains all rights in it. This image is made available for limited non-commercial, educational, and personal use only, or for fair use as defined by United States law. For all other uses, please contact the Michael C. Carlos Museum Office of Collections Services at +1(404) 727-4282 or Users must cite the author and source of the image as they would material from any printed work, but not in any way that implies endorsement of the user or the user's use of the image. Users may not remove any copyright, trademark, or other proprietary notices, including without limitation attribution information, credits, and copyright notices that have been placed on or near the image by the Museum. The Museum assumes no responsibility for royalties or fees claimed by the artist or third parties. The User agrees to indemnify and hold harmless Emory University, its Michael C. Carlos Museum, its agents, employees, faculty members, students and trustees from and against any and all claims, losses, actions, damages, expenses, and all other liabilities, including but not limited to attorney’s fees, directly or indirectly arising out of or resulting from its use of photographic images for which permission is granted hereunder.

On View



“Asen,” Michael C. Carlos Museum Collections Online, accessed June 26, 2019,

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