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Talismanic Textile

Large panel of fabric covered in West African text, grid patterns, and squares of animal hide.

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  • Large panel of fabric covered in West African text, grid patterns, and squares of animal hide.


Late 19th/early 20th century


Probably Senegal

About this artwork

In Sufism, a form of Islamic mysticism that is widely practiced in Senegal, the repetition of verses from the Qur’an and even of individual letters or words is a transcendent form of devotion. This textile is covered with Qur’anic verses that were likely recited as they were inscribed in tightly composed Arabic script, thereby forging a link between the written word and its sound. The calligraphy is arranged in a fluid checkerboard pattern and organized around a series of painted shapes. The checkered motifs evoke magic squares, arrangements of numbers that, when added together in any direction, always amount to the same sum. In Sufism, such numerological devices are held to be a powerful reflection of divine mystery. Like words, they are filled with sacred blessings, or Baraka. The elongated quadruped figure may represent a lizard, a spirit, or a stylized rendering of the name Muhammad. Attached amulets further punctuate the textile. These commonly encase small squares of folded paper bearing sacred writing. Across Senegal, learned Sufi practitioners applied their esoteric knowledge of sacred writing to the therapeutic practices of divination, healing, and spiritual protection. This textile was likely prepared by a practitioner who lent or rented it to clients as needed.


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Talismanic Textile


Senegal (Object made in), Africa (Object made in)


Made 1875-1925


Four panels joined: cotton, plain weave; painted; amulets of animal hide and felt attached by knotted strips of leather


255.2 × 178.8 cm (100 1/2 × 70 3/8 in.)

Credit Line

African and Amerindian Purchase Endowment

Reference Number


Extended information about this artwork

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