The Bamana Boli Essay

1720 words - 7 pages

The Boli, or altar, figure from the Bamana peoples of Mali is a unique piece of art not based on what an individual knows about the figure, but rather what it doesn’t. The Boli has a secretive quality that harness energy from the community and peoples reactions to the Boli can fluctuate based on their interpretations on the object. The Boli is made of materials ranging from human bodily fluid to sticks and string. The figure is generally made to resemble an animal, typically a hippopotamus or cow, but over time with sacrificial material covering the figure it can become somewhat unclear. The Bamana peoples have an obscure relationship with the Boli for many reasons that could sprout from the materials it is made from, its uses in the society, and its extremely secretive nature.
The Boli figure (fig. 1) stands on four separate legs that all connect to the ground forming a stable connection to the earth for the Boli to rest without fear of falling over. The set legs of the Boli also show stillness within the piece. As an individuals gaze progresses upwards through the animalistic features found on a Boli it can be seen that the Boli has a hump at the top of the “back”. This hump can vary in size throughout different Bolis and can even slightly vary in placement amongst them as well. The Boli can be extremely vague in appearance lacking definition and precise features. This lack of definition can be explained from the Boli being a form of an alter. Dark brown mud can be seen on the outermost layer of the Boli displaying somewhat of a matte finish as the light reflects off the piece. Cracks of the Boli’s surface capture shadows creating more definitive line sporadically throughout the piece almost as if each crack is a lightning bolt. This figure has a silhouette that can be described as smooth, while looking centrally it portrays more of a jagged texture. While the Boli is not necessarily made for symmetry it can be portrayed as slightly symmetrical. The Boli has a rustic look from any vantage point an individual can examine it from, however, it seems that the closer to the object one is the more features become prevalent.
The history of the Boli is not quite concrete, as people being foreign to the culture of the African peoples until recent years we are slowly gaining knowledge about the culture and specific artifacts. The Boli was first spotted through the collections of European art collectors in the early 1900s. The Boli, with its mysterious nature, was received with much interest from innovative artists of that time. The figure was very different from anything else that people had seen from the peoples of Africa before. It was received with a fascination from art dealers and artists alike. The secretive effect was attracting many people to this Boli. As Jean-Paul Colleyn stated, “It is a spellbinding object, conceptual even, immediately intriguing to viewers without them feeling the need necessarily to come up with reasons for its effect.” ...

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