Art/ Collection/ Art Object

Seated Female Figure

15th–20th century
Mali, Bougouni or Dioila region
Bamana peoples
H. 40 3/16 x W. 8 1/2 x D. 10 7/8 in. (102.2 x 21.6 x 27.6 cm)
Credit Line:
The Michael C. Rockefeller Memorial Collection, Gift of Nelson A. Rockefeller, 1965
Accession Number:
On view at The Met Fifth Avenue in Gallery 350
Figures like these appear in the annual celebrations of Jo, an association of initiated men and women living near the towns of Bougouni and Dioïla in southern Mali. They also appear in the rituals of Gwan, a related institution concerned with helping women to conceive and bear healthy children. Jo and Gwan sculptures are larger than most Bamana figures, and their distinctive style consists of massive, rounded forms rather than the angular, cubistic ones more typical of Bamana art. Finely incised scarification marks cover their faces, necks, and torsos.
For annual Jo and Gwan rituals, the sculptures are removed from their shrines, cleaned and oiled, decorated with cloth and beads, and set up in the village square in groups. The groupings always feature a mother and child, usually accompanied by a similarly attired male figure and several other male and female figures. The mother and child and her male counterpart are seated in positions of honor, wearing and holding tokens of their physical and supernatural powers -- among them, knives, lances, and amulet-studded hats. The companion figures are often shown in attitudes of respect and submission. When viewed as a whole, these groups of sculptures are the embodiment of Bamana ideals and behavior.
Although sculptures such as these continue to be produced and displayed in a few Bamana villages, some may have been made considerably earlier. Many of the ornaments and weapons seen on the Jo and Gwan figures are also found on terracotta figures from Mali that date from the twelfth to the seventeenth century. Radiocarbon analysis also suggests that these examples may be older than the one or two centuries generally thought possible for wood sculptures to survive in the African environment.
[John J. Klejman, New York, until 1958]; Nelson A. Rockefeller, New York, on loan to The Museum of Primitive Art, 1958–1965; The Museum of Primitive Art, New York, 1965–1978

Art of Oceania, Africa, and the Americas from the Museum of Primitive Art. New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1969, 261.

Biro, Yaëlle. "The Museum of Primitive Art in Africa at the Time of Independence." The Metropolitan Museum of Art Bulletin Vol. 72 (2014), p. 45, 57, 58.

Related Objects

Mother and Child

Date: 15th–20th century Medium: Wood Accession: 1979.206.121 On view in:Gallery 350

Seated Male Figure with Lance

Date: 16th–20th century Medium: Wood Accession: 1983.600a, b On view in:Gallery 350

Female Figure

Date: 19th–20th century Medium: Wood Accession: 1979.206.208 On view in:Gallery 350

Male Figure Holding Animal Horn

Date: 15th–20th century Medium: Wood Accession: 1979.206.132 On view in:Gallery 350

Seated Male Figure

Date: 15th–20th century Medium: Wood, dried mud Accession: 1978.412.363 On view in:Gallery 350