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Smithsonian Center for Folklife and Cultural Heritage

Bogolan and the Tourist Market

Tourist bogolan has evolved and continues to evolve as an independent branch of the art form.  Industrial wax prints and roller-print cotton fabrics have begun to edge out traditional textile production because they can manufacture longer lengths and are easier to tailor. These industrial workshops have no incentive to continue producing traditional styles of textile because new, European-imported clothing styles, which change frequently, have become increasingly popular and are easier to make. Bogolan artists have adapted by responding to the demands of the tourist market. Textile makers have altered traditional styles to suit home décor. Although both traditional and tourist cloths are made of the same lengths of cotton, the latter are usually sewn together on a machine rather than by hand, due to the frequency with which tourists demand the cloths.

Typically mud cloths made for the tourist market use simpler, easier-to-produce patterns that are hastily and unevenly applied, rather than the symbolism-rich designs that adorn traditional fabrics. Newer bogolan uses simplified zig-zag and stripe patterns or they depict stereotypical scenes of Mali such as the famous mosque at Djenne, women pounding millet, weavers working in their villages, or other episodes of everyday Malian life. Frequently these are stenciled onto large bolts of cloth rather than custom-made for a particular garment. The rough quality of the dye application seems to add to the authentic value of the product, as far as most shoppers are concerned. Malian artists now have to respond to the needs of contemporary clients while staying true to the integrity of the bogolan tradition.

Click to enlarge and view captions

click to enlarge and view captions

Listen to translator and moderator Haoua Cheick-Traoré at the 2003 Festival discuss the use of stencils in contemporary bogolan. Play Audio

Listen to translator and moderator Haoua Cheick-Traoré at the 2003 Festival explain how to care for bogolan. Play Audio