Exhibit on Ghanian Bambɔlse Traveling to Ghana

Brittany Sheldon, a doctoral student in IU's Department of the History of Art and the African Studies Program, has been working with the Mathers Museum of World Cultures to create the exhibition State of an Art: Contemporary Ghanaian Bambɔlse for the Ghana Museums and Monuments Board. The exhibition, which is traveling to Ghana this fall, features Sheldon's photographs documenting the red, black, and white designs (bambɔlse) that adorn the earthen walls of houses in the Upper East Region in Ghana.

Many scholars have been captivated by these vivid paintings and have published a wealth of information about their creation and meaning. Historically, the Frafra people of the Upper East Region lived in earthen compound-style homes, which were constructed and repaired by their male occupants. Once the newly built or repaired walls were complete, the women of the home would join together to cover them in plaster, which they would then embellish with designs.

Once the paintings were complete, the women would sprinkle the walls with an organic sealant called am, in order to protect them from deterioration by wind and rain. Plastering and painting processes were highly cooperative, involving all of the women of a household--and often other women from the community as well--who joined together for a festive day of chatting, laughing, and singing, as they toiled in the hot dry season sun to protect and beautify the compound walls. While the women of this region still paint their walls, the practice has changed considerably over time.

The photographs included in the exhibit were taken by Sheldon during two research trips undertaken between July 2012 and March 2013, focusing specifically on plastering and painting projects in Sirigu, Bongo, and Zuarungu-Moshi, three rural communities in the Upper East Region. This exhibition also illustrates some of the ways in which these processes have changed over time, providing a glimpse at the state of traditional architectural embellishment in 21st century northern Ghana.

Sheldon will spend the next year in Ghana, continuing to research and document the designs and practice, and is sharing her experiences online at http://stateofanart.wordpress.com/. In fall 2014, she'll be curating a second exhibition on Ghanian bambɔlse for the MMWC.


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