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Photo credit: Herbert F. Johnson Museum of Art, Cornell University

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Culture: Baule (Ivory Coast)
Title: Standing male figure (blolo bian)
Date: ca. 1930
Medium: Wood and pigment
Dimensions: 16 in. (40.6 cm)
Credit Line: Gift of Mr. and Mrs. William W. Brill
Object Number: 92.005.070
This realistic male figure functioned as an “otherworld mate” for a Baule woman. These figures do not represent a deceased mate, but rather a spirit mate who remains in the “otherworld” when one is born.

This was made in the Ivory Coast, in a Baule community.

The figure was carved from wood by a commissioned wood carver and then painted.

Figures of this type, called blolo bia (if male) and blolo bla (if female), are physical representations of one’s “other-world mate.” In Baule thought, the blolo, or “other-world,” is a world that exists in contrast to the world of physical reality. The need for a blolo bia or blolo bla is signaled by misfortunes, which are usually sexual in nature. If a man is having difficulty finding a spouse, or a woman is having trouble conceiving, it may indicate that the spirit mate is angry or jealous. In order to appease the spirit mate, a diviner will recommend that the individual experiencing difficulties commission an artist to carve a blolo bia or blolo bla. One night per week, a Baule individual sleeps with the otherworld mate, visits the mate in his or her dreams, and makes a small offering to the figure in the morning.

Although you will notice that this figure is clothed in fashionable Western shorts, sandals, fitted shirt, and cap, he represents a contemporary urbane African man, not a colonial European.

Despite its function as an otherworld mate in an African context, figures such as these are often sold to outsiders as “colon” (for colonial). According to oral tradition, “colon” first functioned as public sculptures, placed along paths to alert local inhabitants of the presence of Europeans. Apparently, the sculptures later transformed into protective objects that were designed to repel colonial powers. By the 1950s, colonial administrators, European immigrants, and tourists began to purchase the colonial figures. Ironically, the late 1960s, a time by which most African countries had gained their independence, marked the highpoint of European demand for the painted sculptures. Some scholars have interpreted this as signifying a European desire for objects that remind them of a romanticized past when Europeans controlled much of Africa.

To see other the blolo figures in the Johnson Museum’s collection, search for object numbers 82.110.001, 82.114.007 and 89.015.039 in the keyword search box.

NOTE: This electronic record is compiled from historic documentation which may not reflect the Johnson Museum's complete or current knowledge of the object. Review and refinement of such records is ongoing.