The Baule and Their Art

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With over one million people living between the Comoé and Bandama rivers identifying as such, the Baule represent one of the largest ethnic groups in Côte d'Ivoire (Figure One). Living in villages organically organized into compounds that center around family courtyards and open onto the communal gathering space, the Baule form independent communities of agriculturalists. They grow yams, maize, kola nuts and cocoa and supplement their diet with fish and pastoralism. A fairly egalitarian society, Baule social and political institutions consist of a centralized government headed by a king or chief who inherits his position according to matrilineal lines. However, elders and Goli association members serve as local representatives and judges. In an environment known for its ambiguity, the geographic area in which the Baule occupy consists of open spaces surrounded by forest. For centuries, the distinction between the ordered village and the disorienting wilderness beyond its boards has constituted a central aspect of the Baule philosophy. Naturally, this manner of thought has influenced rich religious traditions, including the Baule belief in a sacred hierarchy consisting of the divine couple Nyamien and Asie at the top, mediating divinities in the middle, and the spirits of nature at the bottom. In turn, these religious connotations have inspired numerous generations’ worth of Baule works of art. While researchers like Susan M. Vogel caution that, “‘art’ cannot be described from a Baule point of view at all, simply because their view does not include ‘art’ in the Western sense of the word,” the Baule are nonetheless regarded for their craftsmanship which is as beautiful as it is contemplative. Intended to be incorporated into th... ... middle of paper ... ...s/search-the-collections/319512 (accessed March 2, 2014). Ravenhill, Philip L. “Likeness and Nearness.” African Arts 33, no. 2 (Summer 2000): 60. MasterFILE Premier, EBSCOhost (accessed March 19, 2014). Roy, Christopher D. “Adulthood.” Art and Life in Africa. University of Iowa Museum of Art, (accessed March 26, 2014). “Tribal African Art.” African Art Museum. (accessed March 24, 2014). University of Iowa Museum of Art. “Baule.” Art & Life in Africa. (accessed March 19, 2014). Visonà, Monica Blackmun, Robin Poynor, and Herbert M. Cole. A History of Art in Africa. 2nd ed. Upper Saddle River, New York: Pearson, 2008. Vogel, Susan Mullin. Baule: African Art, Western Eyes. New Haven: Yale University Press, 1997.

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