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Release: March 21, 2000

Exhibition of African fabric to be major spring exhibition at Museum of Art

IOWA CITY, IA -- "Renewing Tradition: The Revitalization of Bogolan in Mali and Abroad," an exhibition of more than 80 African fabrics and fashions, will be on view from Saturday, March 25 through Sunday, May 28 at the University of Iowa Museum of Art.

The exhibition, focusing on bogolan, or African mudcloth, and its American adaptations, will provide visitors with an opportunity to enhance their understanding of contemporary African art, its growth and its international influence.

The museum will celebrate the opening of the exhibition with a public reception, 5:30-7:30 p.m. Friday, March 24. Vicki Rovine, organizer of "Renewing Tradition" and curator of the Arts of Africa, Oceania, and the Americas at the Museum of Art, will give a gallery tour of the exhibition at 6 p.m., and Olabayo Olaniyi, a musician and African musician and storyteller, will perform at 6:45 p.m.

Two of the museum's weekly Perspectives programs will be presented in conjunction with the exhibition. At 12:30 p.m. Wednesday, March 29, Rovine will give a gallery tour of the exhibition. And at 12:30 p.m. Wednesday, April 12, Malian-born artist and author Baba Wague Diakate will present "Making Mudcloth: A Malian Artist Speaks," including a bogolan demonstration. Both presentations, in the Museum of Art, will be free and open to the public.

The exhibition will also be featured in the museum's 10th annual "Widen Our World" (WOW!) program, which will bring more than 1,200 third-grade students and their teachers from 22 area schools to the Museum of Art during March and April.

A related collaborative exhibition will be at the Iowa Children's Museum in the Coral Ridge Mall, Coralville, March 21-May 26. The Children's Museum exhibit, "Playing with Mud: Mudcloth Tradition of Mali," will feature a reproduced marketplace with textiles from Mali and numerous hands-on activities. For further information on the Children's Museum exhibit, call (319) 625-6255.

Although the term bogolan may be unfamiliar, many Americans will find the bogolan designs exceedingly familiar, as they have gradually entered American markets during the last 10 years. Few people, however, are aware of the textile's origin, role and rich history in the lives of many Malians.

The exhibition will feature bogolan paintings, garments and cloth adapted to the tourist art market, along with photographs and labels explaining the cloth's production.

In its traditional rural form bogolan is woven by men and decorated by elderly women using intricate symbolic patterns that refer to local history and mythology. An important part of local religious practice, the cloth is believed to provide spiritual protection when worn by men as a shirt, and by women as a wrap.

Bogolan's distinctive colors and patterns result from a uniquely Malian dye process. The cloth is first dyed in a solution of water and mashed leaves, then designs are painstakingly drawn onto the cloth using mud that has been fermented in clay pots.

Today in Bamako, the capital of Mali, bogolan is made primarily by young men who have learned the technique in art school. Their experiments with bogolan dyes and methods create an innovative art form that reflects their contemporary urban lifestyles.

Elaborate paintings made of bogolan are sold side by side with richly decorated articles of clothing ranging from Western-style tailored suits and women's miniskirts to boubous, typically Malian flowing robes, also created using bogolan processes. Bogolan has been adapted to a thriving tourist market, developing new styles while using stencils and other technical innovations to speed production.

Rovine hopes that the exhibition will foster an appreciation for the work of contemporary African artists and show the cosmopolitan nature of Africa today.

"Our experience of African art generally hasn't entered the modern age," she said. "We tend to see it still as highly exotic, tribal and traditional. I'd like to provide an alternate vision to the famines, masks, grass huts and tribal warfare that often represent Africa in the American media and imagination."

Rovine has spent more than a year in Bamako and elsewhere in Mali, interviewing artists, art consumers and art merchants. Her research has continued in the United States, where bogolan designs have been widely assimilated, appearing on a range of consumer goods including postcards, coffee cups, curtains, decorative pillows, wrapping paper and gift bags.

"Bogolan is experiencing a renaissance," she said. "I hope this exhibition will update our ideas of how African art has adapted to the pressures of commerce and an increasingly globalized environment."

Rovine won grants of $20,000 from the Rockefeller Foundation and $14,000 from the National Endowment for the Arts to develop "Renewing Tradition."

After it closes at the UI Museum of Art, the exhibition will travel to the DuSable Museum of African-American History in Chicago and the University of California at Santa Barbara.

M.C. Ginsberg Objects of Art, Inc. of Iowa City is the corporate sponsor for the 1999-2000 Perspectives series at the UI Museum of Art, through the University of Iowa Foundation.

WOW! is a collaboration among the Museum of Art, the Iowa City Community School District, Mercantile Bank, Knutson Construction Services and Cedar River Paper Company. Participating students will come from Iowa City elementary schools, as well as Regina Elementary, Willowind School, Lakeview Elementary in Solon, Herbert Hoover Elementary in West Branch and Cedar Rapid's Johnson School of the Arts.

The UI Museum of Art, located on North Riverside Drive in Iowa City, is open 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday and noon to 5 p.m. Sunday. Admission is free. Public metered parking is available in UI parking lots across from the museum on Riverside Drive and just north of the museum.

For information on the UI Museum of Art, visit on the World Wide Web. Information is available on other UI arts events at

(NOTE TO BROADCASTERS: Bogolan is pronounced BO-go-lahn. Baba Wague Diakate is pronounced Ba-ba-wah-GAY dja-kee-TAY.)