Creolizing Currents: Bambara

Mother & Child
Bamana People, Mali
Lent by the Robbins Center for Cross Cultural Communication

Sculptures of mother and child are relatively rare in the art of the Bambara peoples of Mali. Recent scholarship has linked these works with important cultural beliefs about fertility and childbearing. Annual celebrations of the Jo society were held to enable women to assure the birth of many children. This event included festivities and sacrifices but most importantly, the display of an array of wooden sculptures in which the mother and child, called gwandusu, held a central position. The sculpture, surrounded by others including male and female figures was intended to attract attention, focus the eye and direct the thoughts of participants. Gwan, translated into English, means hot, hard and difficult. Dusu means soul, heart, passion, character, courage, and anger. Together they represent a strong and powerful female. In the festival, the sculpture would have been decorated with beads, horns, belts, fabric and, perhaps, a hat. The importance of the mother is indicated by her seated position; a position of honor in Bambara society. The child in the arms of the mother also refers to the importance of the mother in the lives of her children. The child, in Bambara sculptures, is always shown in the arms of the mother, never held by the father.

The style of the gwandusu sculptures differs from other types of Bambara carvings. Her torso is elongated with flowing transitions between body parts. Her breasts curve downward and her large eyes with heavy lids look downward towards her child.

The New Orleans African American Museum (NOAAM) is located in Faubourg Treme, at 1418 Governor Nicholls Street, phone (504) 566-1136.

Generous assistance provided by the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival and Foundation.