Ritual Object (Boli), Bamana, Mali, Mid-19th/early 20th century, Art Institute of Chicago, 1961.1177

Bamana Boli Ritual Object – Meaningful Materials (79)

Ritual Object (Boli), Bamana, Mali, Mid-19th/early 20th century, Art Institute of Chicago, 1961.1177
Ritual Object (Boli), Bamana, Mali, Mid-19th/early 20th century, Art Institute of Chicago, 1961.1177

How do artists’ choices of materials assign identity and meaning to works of art? How does meaning assign material? In this excerpt from one of my museum tours, I explore the meaningful materials in a Boli Ritual Object of the Bamana people in Mali, Africa. This recording comes complete with all the juicy, unscripted, live-action museum gallery accents including background chatter and beeping proximity alarms.

Permanent collection label:
Bamana sculpture often functions as a mediating force between the spirit and human realms. Ritual objects, such as this amorphously shaped boli, are commissioned and cared for by age-grade associations. A boli has a wood core wrapped with cotton cloth, into which spiritually charged packets are bound. Sacrificial materials, including animal blood and grains, are applied to its surface, giving it a crusty exterior. These sacrifices symbolize the layering of secret knowledge, imbuing the boli with nyama (life force). A boli is stored with other sacred objects in a shrine house and may only be seen by members of the association to which it belongs.

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