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Marionette Figure


Mid–20th century


Northern Africa and the Sahel

About this artwork

Among the Bamana, brightly painted and costumed puppets are used to stage performances for the village youth association to teach lessons related to the social and political life of the community. The puppets dance across a small, mobile stage constructed out of cloths and grasses to conceal the actors who animate them. The performance is often accompanied by songs and masked performers who dance alongside the puppets. This marionette figure is defined by an elaborate crested hairstyle, high forehead, painted face, long neck, and pointed breasts. The bottom half of the sculpture represents the handle that the actor would have held and that would have remained invisible to the audience during performances.

Although Bamana farmers and Bozo fishermen participate in these performances today, it is likely that the puppet theater originated among the Bozo, descendants of the medieval Ghana Empire and possibly among the earliest inhabitants of the region.


Currently Off View


Arts of Africa


Bamana (Creator of work depicted)


Marionette Figure


Mali (Object made in)

Date  Dates are not always precisely known, but the Art Institute strives to present this information as consistently and legibly as possible. Dates may be represented as a range that spans decades, centuries, dynasties, or periods and may include qualifiers such as c. (circa) or BCE.



Wood and pigment


86.9 × 17.8 × 14.6 cm (34 1/4 × 7 × 5 3/4 in.)

Credit Line

Gift of Mr. and Mrs. Joseph R. Shapiro

Reference Number


Extended information about this artwork

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