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HOME : African & Tribal Art : Bankoni : Bankoni Terracotta Figure
Bankoni Terracotta Figure - PF.5760
Origin: Mali, West Africa
Circa: 12 th Century AD to 16 th Century AD
Dimensions: 23" (58.4cm) high x 6" (15.2cm) wide
Collection: Afican Art
Style: Bankoni
Medium: Terracotta

Location: United States
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This delightful sculpture comes from the inland Niger River Delta region in modern day Mali. Of the many styles discovered in the area, the Bankoni are among the most famous and fruitful. All the objects made by the various civilizations can be dated from the 12th to 16th century A.D. The Bankoni is, strictly speaking, a ceramic style, which, along with the Djenne style, was the main stylistic subdivision of the Malian Empire. The Djenne and Bankoni styles ran contemporaneously and were based around the cities of Djenne-Djenno and Bamako, respectively.

Djenne and Bankoni sculpture is highly significant in the development of West African art styles. In simplistic terms, their central preoccupation was seated, standing and kneeling human figures, in addition to equestrian and zoomorphic/anthropomorphic divertimenti. Djenne pieces tend to be naturalistic, while Bankoni sculptures tend towards elongated proportions. Owing to the popularity of these pieces, sites have been systematically plundered so we know almost nothing of their culture beyond its evident refinement. It was evidently highly socially stratified, with major markers of wealth including scarifications, jewellery, horses and prestige artefacts such as the sculptures themselves. The works of the Bankoni can be characterized by their elongated proportions and distinctive faces. The facial structures are rather simply modeled. The eyes and mouth are vertical slits incised into the clay while the nose is a prominent ridge that dominates the face. This figure wears a few armbands, highlighting the joins of its limbs.

Objects such as this have long posed a puzzle to African art historians. They are mostly found in graves, but it is unclear whether they also had a function in everyday activities, or were made specifically as burial goods. It has been suggested that they were rattles or alternatively that they represent sacrificial animals that could be “sacrificed” without losing valuable livestock. Their obvious lack of utilitarian function has led to the theory that they were devotional objects of some sort. - (PF.5760)


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