Gwandusu Female Figure, Bamana, Mali, 20th century
Gift of Mrs. Corine Thompson
CAT 2017 CT 34
The Bamana reside in the country of Mali in West Africa. They are members of the Mande culture, a large powerful group in the region. Their society is comprised of numerous associations that regulate behavior to maintain stability in society. The Gwandusu figure displayed here would have been viewed at the annual ceremonies of "Jo", an association of initiated Bamana men and women, and at the rituals of "Gwan", a related society whose purpose is to help women conceive and bear children. Groups of sculptures which were collectively owned by individual communities to be publicly exhibited on such occasions, included representations of a mother and child, a male companion, and related attendant figures. The Gwandusu figure is part of a corpus of large, relatively naturalistic sculptures whose rounded volumes and variety of gestures depart from the angular forms and stiff postures characteristic of many other types of Bamana sculpture. Bamana notions of ideal beauty and character are evoked in this figure of a mother and child. This Gwandusu depicts a woman of extraordinary abilities, as shown by the amulet-laden hat which is conventionally associated with the powers of male hunters. An even more vital message conveyed by the sculpture is the importance of motherhood in maintaining social cohesion and continuity within Bamana society, and elders' roles in passing on their skills, powers, and values to future generations.
Source: Metropolitan Museum of Art;
Exhibition of Maternity Figure and Gwandusu (rear) Sculptures, Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York