Courtesy of The University of Iowa
Essay by Janet Goldner and Kletigui Dembele
The Groupe Bogolan Kasobané is a collective of six artists from Mali, West Africa. It is composed of Kandioura Coulibaly, Klètigui Dembélé, Néné Thiam, Boubacar Doumbia, Souleymane Goro, and Baba Fallo Keita.
The five men and one woman have been working together since 1978. All of the members of the Groupe studied painting at the Institute National des Arts (L'INA) in Bamako in the 1970's.
After graduating from L'INA, members of the Groupe traveled throughout Mali to research the traditions and practices of bogolan, a traditional Malian technique of vegetal pigments on cotton cloth. The Groupe's most important findings had to do with the symbolic alphabet, the traditional structure and uses, and the meanings of the traditional colors encoded in the bogolan cloths used as skirts by women (pagnes).
This information enabled the Groupe to read the significance and the teachings of the cloths which were in danger being lost.
Ashanti Fish | Groupe Bogolan Kasobané | Earth pigment on cotton canvas, 47" x 79"
The Groupe abandoned modern painting methods in favor of the traditional technique of bogolan. Western art materials were and are very expensive in Mali. Paint, paper, brushes and the rest have to be imported from Europe. This pushed the Groupe to use the traditional art materials which exist in Mali: vegetal pigments such as clay and plant dyes on locally grown, hand-woven cotton cloth.
The name of the Groupe, Kasobané, means "prison is finished, we are free" in the Bamana language. Free from the need to express themselves creatively with materials that were not their own. Free to use the materials which occur naturally in Mali and which are embued with a wealth of tradition and significance.
Traditionally, bogolan has been used only for clothing. The Groupe moved the technique from craftsmanship to art. Their insistence on using local materials and "elevating" materials associated with craft is a strategy employed by many contemporary artists throughout the world who use the materials at hand in their work.
Using dyes as paint, the innovation within the bogolan tradition is realized in the allegorical narrative compositions, the graphic style, the expanded palette and in the presentation of works as stretched canvases.
Bogolan is a Bamana word that is composed of bogo meaning clay or mud with the suffix lan which means the instrument where one waits for a result. Bogolan means literally the result that is given by clay (on cloth). It suggests a result of a technique that consists of applying clay to a fabric support.
The term "mud cloth" as it has been translated into English is actually inaccurate since it is a specific wet clay rather than mud which is used in this technique. The fabric traditionally consists of bands of hand-woven cotton cloth which are sewn together to make a wide cloth that can be used as a tunic, a wrapped skirt or now, a canvas.
The clay with which one draws on the canvas is found near river beds. The clay is applied directly to the cloth using such implements as a quill, stick or brush. Other colors are achieved from the use of vegetal dyes which come from different species of local plants and result in colors that range from ochre, to khaki, to reddish brown.
The art of the Groupe Bogolan Kasobané is inspired by the context in which the work is conceived and elaborated. It is the consequence of a collective inspiration, the joy of the work and is rooted in the community tradition of Malian society. It is this intimate and specific connection to Malian culture that distinguishes the art of the Groupe. The work blooms in the symbiosis of traditional and contemporary art.
This is an art layered with meanings some of which are universal and others of which are culturally specific. The Groupe's exploration is of a visual language of symbols through the rescuing, invention and juxtaposition of symbols. This sharing is of a dialogue that is partly knowable and partly secret.
Even without knowing the significance of the symbols, the works hold as paintings. An understanding and appreciation of Malian history, culture and tradition adds specificity to the work and aids in the protection of the symbols. This work is demanding in the best sense of the word, you see it at once and it also unfolds with patience over time.
With their collective creations, the artists of the Groupe go beyond the individualism, the subjectivity and the ŒI' that comes from the West. In the artistic practice of the Groupe, whether the inspiration is collective or individual, there is always the intervention of the Groupe in the points of disagreement and difficulty that inevitably arise.
When the sources of inspiration are collective, the composition is executed communally as well and the final realization is given to one of the members of the Groupe who is the most interested in the chosen theme. The work is always finished by the whole group.
Over the course of the Groupe's twenty years of collective work and with the close ties that have developed between the artists, the reciprocal influences have played an important role in unifying the work of the Groupe. This work has become a school of thought, a source of solidarity and a place of transmission that is ripe for inspiration both for the Groupe itself and for other artists as well.
Although the members of the Groupe were formally trained in art, and know and admire the works of the major artists of the world, their originality has been in their refusal of painting, the easel, perspective, chemical colors and all other external elements for the ancestral ways of representation.
Their singularity, as contemporary artists, has been to develop a responsible artistic conscience in the face of social turbulence within which is the power to crush people and decompose fundamental virtues.
The bogolan canvas is a mosaic of fantasy and reality, encompassing a proverb, a legend, a grand theme or a real situation. As a contemporary art, the works of the Groupe address the contradictions of Malian society today. The bands of cotton woven by the ancestors, drawn by contemporary artists, are a point of connection for tradition and an imagined future.
Today the Groupe is known because of their numerous exhibitions in Mali and around the world. The first American exhibition of the work of the Groupe took place in New York City as a part of the New York African Film Festival in April and May of 1998. This exhibition was curated by American artist, Janet Goldner and Klètigui Dembélé, a member of the Groupe. The exhibition presented paintings as well as costumes.
Since 1994, The Groupe Bogolan Kasobané has been responsible for the costumes and sets for many films including Malian directors Cheick Oumar Sissoko's Guimba and Adama Drabo's Taafe Fange (Skirt Power). Their work received first prize for Guimba at FESPACO, 1995 in Ouagadougou.
This was the first time in the history of FESPACO that a prize was given for costumes and sets. Taafe Fange received the prize for art in Japan. The Groupe maintains a studio in Bamako and is constructing a small museum in Segou, Mali. They have recently completed a body of work inspired by the 1992 Rio Earth Summit on the environment.
Posted By: AfricanColours
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