Pauline Duponchel. Textiles Bògòlan du Mali. Neuchâtel: Musée d'Ethnographie, 2004. 333 pp. Photographs. Map. Catalogue. Annexes. Notes. Glossary. Bibliography. euro23. Paper.
Bernhard Gardi, ed. Textiles du Mali d'après les collections du Musée National du Mali. Bamako: Musée National du Mali, 2003. 119 pp. Photographs. Maps. Notes. Bibliography. $30.00/36 CHF. Paper.
Pauline Duponchel's volume reflects the dozen years of comprehensive field research she conducted on Bamana mud cloth in Mali between 1974 and 1997. Originally written as a doctoral dissertation for the Ecole Pratique des Hautes Etudes, its principal focus is on the diverse cultural, social, religious, and technical aspects of traditional bogolanfini (cloth with mud). She also devotes some attention to bogolan, the modern derivative cloth, about which she has written in the past.
The text is divided into five chapters, within each of which there are several sections. In the first chapter, Duponchel covers the history of the origins of mud cloth, the botanicals used to pretreat the white cotton cloth, and the actual techniques and tools employed in painting the black mud background around the white designs and patterns. Some of this ground has been previously traversed by other scholars, most recently by Tavey D. Aherne, Sarah Brett-Smith, this writer, and Victoria Rovine. However, Duponchel provides an excellent synthesis of previous observations linked to her own.
In the next chapter, "Une seconde Peau" ("A Second Skin"), the author draws attention to the spiritual role of certain types of bogolanfini at the time of female excision and later on when young women rejoin their husbands. Here her observations complement and confirm those previously made by Sarah Brett-Smith, who has communicated them in several excellent articles. Duponchel elaborates this chapter with discussions of the designs and patterns on these circumcision cloths, and describes some of the artists who create them. She also examines in detail the tyéblenkéw masquerade performed by men, some of whom wear camouflages of bogolanfini cloth.
The third chapter, "L'Espace et Les Personnes" ("Space and People"), is the most lengthy in the book. It profiles various bogolanfini artists and their works, as well as the designs and patterns that they place on their cloths. The great value of this chapter lies in its documentation of the similarities and differences between cloths created in various areas of the Bamana country, and in its sketches of close to a dozen bogolanfini artists. This coverage greatly amplifies the information provided in single-artist volumes such as Nakunte Diarra: Bogolanfini Artist of the Bélédougou by Tavey D. Aherne (1992), and African Mud Cloth: The Bogolanfini Art Tradition of Gneli Traoréby Pascal James Imperato (2005).
In the fourth chapter, "Le Bogolan de Bamako" ("The Bogolan of Bamako"), the author explores the development and evolution of bogolan, the modern derivative cloth, often created by men, which is now found in items of apparel throughout the world. She highlights the career of the late Seydou Nourou Doumbia (Chris Seydou), who as a leading fashion designer played a major role in shifting bogolanfini designs and patterns from their traditional contexts to Western attire. Largely through his influence and that of other Malian stylists whom she describes, bogolan designs and patterns have now become internationalized. Duponchel has made no attempt in this chapter to be comprehensive; rather, she provides readers with a brief overview of a complex phenomenon. A detailed scholarly study of modern bogolan based on several years of field research has been provided by Victoria Rovine in her excellent book, Bogolan: Shaping Culture through Cloth in Contemporary Mali (2001).
In a brief final chapter, "Les Mains ont la Parole" ("Hands Speak"), the author addresses the complexity inherent in bogolanfini designs and patterns: Allegory, metaphor, fluidity of meaning depending on context, and a desire for secrecy render easy interpretation difficult. …