Discover the museum's exhibitions

19 October 2012 - 24 March 2013, Heleneum - Lugano

Sogo. Bamana Masks and Puppets

 A metaphor of life and an educational tool of a culture which has resisted all forms of “colonization” for over a millennium.

Foto gallery

The project

The exhibition entitled "SOGO. MASCHERE E MARIONETTE BAMANA" invites the visitors on a journey to the banks of the Niger River in Southern Mali to meet the Bamana people. Their theatrical tradition and their celebration of masks (sogo bò) presents a world where cultural dynamics, social relations and events are expressed through masked characters and puppets, songs, music and dance. Although it did witness natural changes according to a progressing lifestyle, this ancient tradition has been perpetuated over the centuries to our present day. 

The exhibits belong to a collection which was generously donated to the Museo delle Culture by the French art dealer and collector, Charles Everlé. Mr. Everlé began his collecting activities in Dakar in the early 1970s and will be present at the exhibition opening. 

The exhibition presents the results of the museum’s two-year research project in collaboration with Mr. Everlé. These internationally recognized results demonstrate the museum’s professionalism and ability to respond to the new demands of museum research.

Puppet Theatre and the Bamana Culture

The first traces of this form of puppet theatre date back to the chronicles of the fourteenth century. This ongoing tradition has managed to maintain its characteristics and independence, despite the colonization, Islamization and Evangelization of West African societies.

Over the centuries, the Malian Bamana have refined the art of puppet making and performing during festivals and ceremonies. Group masking and role-playing games are a key part of the fundamental education process such as transmitting technical knowledge, promoting a sense of community, performing initiation rites and providing social criticism. In this context, the puppets are an essential medium for the transmission of knowledge and culture, while guaranteeing the stability and continuity of community life.

The central figure in the Bamana culture is the “human being”, the “seed of the world”, whose role is deeply connected to the animals who bequeath their wisdom to mankind. The Bamana study the behaviour of wild animals in their natural environment in order to increase their knowledge and draw up “laws”.This research stems from their local ideological ideas, which explain that God created the animals before man, providing them with an eternal knowledge which is passed down from one generation to the next, only to be learned by mankind.

The Exhibition

The exhibition will present those characters and figures that truly express the key characteristics of the Bamana society and its educational, cultural and initiation processes in everyday life (the most important masks represent the rites which are linked to agricultural life.)

The museum will display 34 small and large polychrome wood puppets and masks. A large amount of the characters are zoomorphic, depicting animals of the savannah, which in turn represent human virtues and vices. There are also several human and divine beings.

Most of the exhibits (with the exception of a few older pieces) were created immediately in the period after 1960 when Mali had declared its independance.

The exhibition, accompanied by the related catalogue, will also show a film and play a soundtrack which was recorded during a puppet performance in the village of Kirango.

Sogo. Maschere e marionette bamana

Collezione Claude e Marthe Everlé
a cura di Barbara Gianinazzi e Paolo Maiullari
Edizioni Mazzotta, Milano 2012
Altrarti 5
Chf 36.-
ISBN 978-88-202-1992-5