Bamana initiation associations make and use the boli figure. It is categorized as a secret object, a holder for spiritual energy that can be activated to protect the community and the society's members from harmful forces. Because they are assembled from diverse substances they symbolize the Bamana universe. While this example seems to be an animal, possibly a bovine, others are human. However, all are amorphous in form and obscure in meaning. The bamboo and fiber support structure can be seen underneath the accumulative ritual surface that can be composed of mud, honey, animal blood, millet and other materials. This figure is unusually slender with its armature showing. This may mean it left Mali relatively early in its life or that it was perhaps never consolidated by western collectors. Regardless, the surface remains fragile and sheds.
Altar figure in the shape of a four legged, humpbacked animal with accumulative surface over a bamboo frame. Nondescript head.
Herbert Baker, Pacific Palisades, California, -- to 1967
Earth Matters: Land as Material and Metaphor in the Arts of Africa, National Museum of African Art, Smithsonian Institution, Washington, D.C., April 22, 2013-February 23, 2014; Fowler Museum at UCLA, University of California, Los Angeles, April 19-September 14, 2014
The Language of African Art, Museum of African Art, Smithsonian Institution Fine Arts & Portrait Gallery, Washington, D.C., May 24-September 7, 1970, no. 34
Milbourne, Karen E. 2013. Earth Matters: Land as Material and Metaphor in the Arts of Africa. New York: The Monacelli Press; Washington, D.C.: National Museum of African Art, Smithsonian Institution, p. 57, no. 38.
Museum of African Art. 1970. The Language of African Art, A Guest Exhibition of the Museum of African Art at the Smithsonian Institution Fine Arts & Portrait Gallery Building. Washington, D.C.: Smithsonian Institution, no. 34 (not illustrated).