Maternity Figure, Bamana, Mali, n.d.
Wood and Fibers, 30” and 37”
Gift of Dr. John Ross
CAT 2016 JR 33
The Bamana of Mali have many age grade societies or “Jo’s” that regulate social behavior. These societies uphold the standards of the society by educating the community through the initiation process and ceremony. The education of men and women begins at a very young age and continues into adulthood. The Gwan Jo is responsible for teaching women and addressing issues relating to fertility and childbearing. The Gwandusu sculpture is used in many of their ceremonies to address these issues. Gwandusu is a name that evokes strength, passion, and conviction. The name combines Gwan, the name of the organization itself that also means hot, hard, or difficult, and dusu, which translates as soul, heart, passion, courage, and anger.
The woman is represented as both a nurturing mother and a female with extraordinary powers. Her heavy breasts hold the promise of milk for the child that clings to her abdomen. Once women conceive they must return and make sacrifices to Gwan. The sculpture would be part of a public display of several other pieces that include a male companion and attendants. During annual ceremonies, the figures are washed and oiled then dressed in cloth, head ties and beads, which are donated by women within the community. These ceremonies take place in Bamana communities to celebrate the amazing abilities of the spirit of femininity captured in these sculptures.
Source: Clarke, Christa. The Art of Africa: A Resource for Educators. Metropolitan Museum, New York, 2016.
Exhibition of Maternity Figure and Gwandusu Sculptures, Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York