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HOME : African & Tribal Art : Bambara Sculptures : Bambara Wooden Guandousou Sculpture of a Mother and Child
Bambara Wooden Guandousou Sculpture of a Mother and Child - CK.0093 (LSO)
Origin: Mali
Circa: 20 th Century AD
Dimensions: 58.625" (148.9cm) high x 9.875" (25.1cm) wide
Collection: African
Medium: Wood

Location: United States
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This impressive dark wood figure of a woman and a child is a Guandousou “queen” figure from the Bamana of Mali. It is a traditional rendering of this socially important art form, with a quadrupedal stand, tiny legs, a wide base tapering to an hourglass torso, extremely long arms, breasts rendered as a solid two-part block and a long neck. The hands protectively encircle a small child who is gripping rather precariously onto the front of her body, the head turned to the viewer’s left. The woman’s head is oval and bears a tall, conical hat/headdress, with a serene face bearing tin features and framed by graceful braids of hair that spiral down to each breast. Patination is matte and irregular.

The Bambara/Bamana are one of the largest groups in Mali (about 2.5 million) and lives in a savannah grassland area that contrasts strongly with the Dogon heartland. Their linguistic heritage indicates that they are part of the Mande group, although their origins go back perhaps as far as 1500 BC in the present-day Sahara. They gave rise to the Bozo, who founded Djenne in an area subsequently overrun by the Soninke Mande (<1100 AD). Their last empire dissolved in the 1600s, and many Mande speakers spread out along the Nigeria River Basin. The Bamana empire arose from these remnant populations in around 1740. The height of its imperial strength was reached in the 1780s under the rule of Ngolo Diarra, who expanded their territory considerably.

They have a very complex caste-based social system, while age, sex and occupation groups are also classed to reflect their social importance. This complex structure is echoed in the systematics of indigenous art traditions. Everyday items include iron staffs, wooden puppets and equestrian figures; their sexually-constructed anthropomorphic door locks are especially well-known. There are four main mask forms, related to the n’tomo, Komo, Nama and Kore societies. Heavily encrusted zoomorphic Boli figures serve an apotropaic function, but the Bamana’s best- known sculptures are the Guandousou, Guantigi and Guanyenni figures, that are used by the Gwan secret society to promote fertility and social balance.

This piece – the Guandousou “queen” figure – is the central focus of the ceremony. Her spouse is a Guantigi male (“king”) sculpture, who balances and complements her fertility, and they are supported by a series of five Guanyenni attendants (“companions”) that symbolise fertility and nurturing as well as waiting upon the main two figures. The sculptures are usually stored in niches by members of the Gwan secret society, from whence they are taken annually, oiled, dressed, prayed over, displayed then returned to their place. Old examples of this tradition date back to before the 16th century AD; the current example would appear to date from somewhere in the first half of the 20th century.

This is a beautiful and important piece of African art.

- (CK.0093 (LSO))


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