Art and Culture of the Bamana People of Mali

Virtual Preview: February 17, 2021


About the Exhibit

This virtual preview is for an upcoming installation to be held in the Gallery in the Spring 2022.

  The Bamana people of Mali in West Africa are known worldwide for their beautiful art forms consisting of sculpted wooden objects, forged iron figures, intricately woven textiles, leather goods, and ceramics. The various forms of art that will be exhibited are closely linked to Bamana initiatory and religious ceremonies as well as to youth association celebrations. They are together a reflection of the Bamana way of life and their understanding of the world. 

     The Bamana and their beliefs and practices have never been static. Under both internal and external influences they have undergone change. The same is true of their art forms in which one can discern both continuity and change over time.  Also reflected in their art and that of their neighbors are long-standing artistic exchanges across open cultural borders.

     Islam has been a prominent presence in the Bamana world for many centuries. As a result, syncretism has long existed among the Bamana in which their traditional beliefs have been co-mingled with those of Islam.  However, in recent years, the very liberal forms of Islam, long present among the Bamana, have been increasingly replaced by greater orthodoxy, creating an environment that is inimical to representational art forms.  The vitality of Bamana initiation societies and masked festivals has always been dependent on rural youth associations. These have declined over time under the influences of modern education, and a cash economy that have resulted in a rural exodus of younger people to the cities and abroad.  Yet, in many rural Bamana villages, ceremonies and festivals using traditional sculptures have continued.  

      This exhibition will present a diverse group of Bamana art objects and will be accompanied by an illustrated catalogue.


About the Curator

Pascal James Imperato is a distinguished Africanist, African art historian, and ethnographer.  He is internationally respected for his studies of the Bamana, Dogon, and Peul peoples of Mali, based on field-research conducted over many years.  He is also well known for his studies of the Luo of Tanzania and the colonial era history of northern Kenya.  His books include Dogon Cliff Dwellers.  The Art of Mali’s Mountain People (1978), Legends, Sorcerers and Enchanted Lizards. Door Locks of the Bamana of Mali (2001), Quest for the Jade Sea.  Colonial Competition around an East African Lake (1998), and African Mud Cloth. The Bogolanfini Art Tradition of Gneli Traoré of Mali (2006).  He co-edited, with Leonard Kahan and Donna Page, Surfaces.  Color, Substances, and Ritual Applications on African Sculpture (2009). 

In 2012, he co-authored with his son, Gavin H. Imperato, BUNDU. Sowei Headpieces of the Sande Society of West Africa. He co-authored with his son, Austin C. Imperato, Victor Forestier Sow. A Pioneer Malian Painter (2014). Both were catalogues that accompanied QCC Art Gallery exhibitions of the same names for which he and his respective sons served as co-curators. In 2017, he authored the catalogue and curated the QCC Art Gallery exhibition, Traditional African Art. Selections from the Liren Wei Collection.

Dr. Imperato is a highly accomplished public health physician and a specialist in internal medicine and tropical diseases. His diverse career has included combatting lethal communicable diseases in West and East Africa, and serving as Commissioner of Health of New York City. He is currently Distinguished Service Professor, Founding Dean of the School of Public Health, and Senior Vice President for Academic Affairs at the State University of New York, Downstate Health Sciences University in New York City. He is the recipient of numerous honors and awards including the Meritorious Honor Award and Medal of the U.S. Department of State for his work in Mali and Honorary Doctor of Science degrees from Tulane University and St. John’s University. 

  • Pair of N'Tomo Masks
  • Village of Nongo, Arrondissement of Niosombougou, Cercle of Kolokani
  • Wood, cowrie shells, red seeds
  • H. 24 and 21 inches
  • n.d.
  • Komo Boli
  • Village of Chola, Cercle of Sikasso
  • Wood, vulture feathers, bird skull, luminous brown encrustation.
  • H. 23 inches, L. 19½ inches
  • n.d.
  • Korè hyena mask (Namakoroni koun)
  • Cercle of Kolokani
  • Wood, cowrie shells, red cotton threads
  • H. 15 inches
  • n.d.
  • Tyi Wara female and male antelope crest masks
  • Cercle of San
  • Wood, cowrie shells, tufts of white cotton threads, leather, baskets, raffia.
  • H. 40 and 42 inches
  • n.d.
  • N'Gonzon koun crest mask
  • Cercle of Koulikoro
  • Wood, metal, basket.
  • L. 18 inches
  • n.d.
  • Buffalo mask (Sigi koun)
  • Djitoumou
  • Wood, vegetable pigments
  • H. 24 inches
  • n.d.
  • Wara mask representing a lion (Zantegeba)
  • Djitoumou
  • Wood, cloth, blue glass, red, white, and blue paint.
  • H. 18 inches
  • n.d.
  • Antelope marionette crest (Sogo koun)
  • Cercle of Macina
  • Wood, metal, red, blue, and green cloth.
  • L: 37 inches
  • n.d.
  • Bozo antelope marionette crest (Sogo koun)
  • Cercle of Segou
  • Wood, blue glass, white, red, blue and green paint.
  • H. 37 inches
  • n.d.
  • Puppet (Merenkoun)
  • Arrondissement of Markala, Cercle of Segou
  • Wood, metal, yellow, red, white, black and blue paint.
  • H. 33 inches
  • n.d.
  • Puppet (Yayoroba)
  • Arrondissement of Markala, Cercle of Segou
  • Wood, yellow and black paint.
  • H. 33 inches
  • n.d.
  • Door (Kon)
  • Village of Tamala, Arrondissement of Quélessébougou, Cercle of Bamako
  • Wood, metal.
  • H. 51½ inches, W. 26 inches
  • n.d.
  • Male circumcision rattles (wassambaraw)
  • Cercle of Bougouni
  • Wood, string, metal, calabash discs.
  • H. 23½, 21, 22 inches
  • n.d.