Mud Chic

Traditional mudcloth from Mali

Boubacar Doumbia is a legend in Mali. Few artisans have impacted, directly or indirectly, as many lives and livelihoods as he. His story began in art school in Bamako, Mali’s capital, over two decades ago when he teamed up with five other art students to form Group Bogolan Kasobane, which was dedicated to revive bogolan (or mudcloth), Mali’s traditional cloth. They were committed to using their traditions to create contemporary art rather than using imported paints and canvas. Many have credited Kasobane as being a major force in saving mudcloth from extinction. To reinvigorate this art form, the group went from village to village researching their traditions and learning the craft.

Since those early days of wanting to be a contemporary artist using his country’s indigenous traditions, Doumbia has developed his own very strong aesthetic sensibility while staying true to his heritage. This fine balance has positioned him as a recognized leader in the contemporary African textile movement.

Not only an artist Doumbia is also an entrepreneur with vision, patience and foresight.  Through Atelier Ndomo Doumbia has created a social and commercial extension of his life’s vision—to promote the traditional textiles of Mali, but also as an educator who empowers Malian youth.  He has trained uneducated youth in the techniques and secrets of creating bogolan to a level never before realized. At the same time offering education and initiating social programs, such as a savings program to learn financial responsibility and gain economic security. Today those early trainees are now masters training others in that same program.  Doumbia also has worked with women’s groups, offering education as well as training in sophisticated bogolan techniques so that they too can gain financial independence by selling design-conscious textiles to international buyers.

This is the backdrop of his highly creative and intuitive use of this indigenous craft that he has raised to an art form, while never losing the perspective that it must sell for it to foster economic development for others.  Each year his designs are reworked at the hands of lesser artisans throughout the region, and each year it is he who creates the new designs--dynamic or meditative, bold or sublime--but always impassioned and creative, while staying true to his tradition.

No single person has sustained as intense and reflective a relationship with bogolan as an art form as Doumbia. He is a legend for not only for helping youth and women but for also generating employment opportunities. Doumbia has refined this tradition so that it has withstood the fickled taste of the international community for anything new and ethnic, while sustaining interest through constant innovation and refined techniques.  Each bogolan artist throughout Mali knows they can sell their work to Japan, the US, France, Brazil or Austrailia in large part because of his vision and creativity.

Doumbia has received numerous awards, including the Premier Prize for Entrepreneurship in Africa from Harubuntu 2010.  His works have been featured in galleries and showrooms across Africa, the United States and Europe and many buyers from across the globe have sought his work.

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