Written by: Emily Sabens, Public Relations Intern

What is this creature? A bear? A dog? A hippopotamus?

Researchers aren’t entirely sure what “Critter” represents. They do know, though, that it was made by the ancestors of the Bamana people.


Unidentified artist. Critter, 1550-1650. Formed and sculpted terracotta. 5.06 x 4.19 x 10.5 inches. David Owsley Museum of Art. Loaned from the David T. Owsley Collection. L2009.009.065

The Bamana live in Bankoni, located about six miles from the capital of Mali in Western Africa. Most Bamana are farmers, but many also choose to specialize in commerce, hunting, herbal medicine and even the arts.

The group has a rich artistic history. Artists over the years have produced woven cloths and wrought iron figures. They also create traditional masks, which are then used in community and educational events.

The Bankoni also frequently make sculptures and pottery. Male sculptors traditionally work in iron and wood while female sculptors generally work in clay.

While Bankoni is the city in which the Bamana live, it also can refer to the style of art the Bamana’s ancestors made. Bankoni art refers to a style of figure with tubular shapes, rounded edges and fluid contours. Bankoni art reflects the properties of the soft clay that is used to form these objects.  

“Critter” is a perfect example of a Bankoni work. Its legs, body and head all are made of tubular shapes. All of its edges are rounded. And its limbs and body form fluidly together.

Visit the David Owsley Museum of Art today to see “Critter,” lent to the museum by David Owsley. And be sure to check out the rest of our vast collection.