A few weeks ago I attended a workshop Bogolan – painting with mud from the river Niger -. Bogolan is an ancient way to paint and decorate cloths or fabric. By the 1970s, the bogolan tradition had nearly died out, because of a combination of the advancing globalization and the Malian struggle for independence. In the 1980s, through the efforts of cultural administrators and activists, as well as fashion designer Chris Seydou, Malians rediscovered the ‘heritage’ of Bogolan. The craft of bogolan soon mutated into two strains; bogolan mass-produced fabrics and fine art. The mass-production of bogolan serves the tourist and fashion markets and has become an important branch of the craft economy in Mali.
Painter Ismaël Diabaté helped transform the bogolanfini from a distinctly Malian clothing style to an internationally recognized fine art. In 1981 Diabaté started working with bogolan in his paintings. He believed that colonialism had undermined the Malian aesthetic and considered the mud-dyed technique part of a cultural revival. He combined the traditional technique with contemporary media and styles.
Fashion Designer Chris Seydou embraced Malian mudcloth in the 1980s as part of his heritage and delighted in its graphic quality. He simplified the older patterns, creating designs that tailored into Western style mini-skirts and jackets. The success of Seydou inspired a lot of young designers to use the bogolan technique in a modern way.
Also artists group Groupe Kasobane played an important part in rediscovering Bogolan. Mudcloth had only been used for clothing and these artists moved the technique from craftsmanship to art. Their innovation lies in the compositions, the style, the color range and in the presentation of works.
I learned a lot about Bogolan and I liked painting with the mud. It is very interesting to see how an ancient technique can be used in so many ways and I think it is very special that graphics that have been used for centuries still are so powerful. What I also learned is that this technique isn’t a precise one, or one that is suitable for small delicate patterns. I don’t believe I can use it to design and create a book cover. However, the patterns can also be used with different media. So …. in the future there will be book cover with Bogolan patterns …