The Groupe Bogolan Kasobané is a collective of six artists from Mali, West Africa. It is composed of Kandioura Coulibaly, Klètigui Dembélé, Néné Thiam, Boubacar Doumbia, Souleymane Goro, and Baba Fallo Keita. The five men and one woman have been working together since 1978. All of the members of the Groupe studied painting at the Institute National des Arts (L'INA) in Bamako in the 1970's.
After graduating from L'INA, members of the Groupe traveled throughout Mali to research the traditions and practices of bogolan, a traditional Malian technique of vegetal pigments on cotton cloth. The Groupe's most important findings had to do with the symbolic alphabet, the traditional structure and uses, and the meanings of the traditional colors encoded in the bogolan cloths used as skirts by women (pagnes). This information enabled the Groupe to read the significance and the teachings of the cloths which were in danger being lost.
The Groupe abandoned modern painting methods in favor of the traditional technique of bogolan. Western art materials were and are very expensive in Mali. Paint, paper, brushes and the rest have to be imported from Europe. This pushed the Groupe to use the traditional art materials which exist in Mali: vegetal pigments such as clay and plant dyes on locally grown, hand-woven cotton cloth.
The name of the Groupe, Kasobané, means "prison is finished, we are free" in the Bamana language. Free from the need to express themselves creatively with materials that were not their own. Free to use the materials which occur naturally in Mali and which are embued with a wealth of tradition and significance.
Traditionally, bogolan has been used only for clothing. The Groupe moved the technique from craftsmanship to art. Their insistence on using local materials and "elevating" materials associated with craft is a strategy employed by many contemporary artists throughout the world who use the materials at hand in their work. Using dyes as paint, the innovation within the bogolan tradition is realized in the allegorical narrative compositions, the graphic style, the expanded palette and in the presentation of works as stretched canvases.
Bogolan is a Bamana word that is composed of bogo meaning clay or mud with the suffix lan which means the instrument where one waits for a result. Bogolan means literally the result that is given by clay (on cloth). It suggests a result of a technique that consists of applying clay to a fabric support. The term "mud cloth" as it has been translated into English is actually inaccurate since it is a specific wet clay rather than mud which is used in this technique. The fabric traditionally consists of bands of hand-woven cotton cloth which are sewn together to make a wide cloth that can be used as a tunic, a wrapped skirt or now, a canvas.
The clay with which one draws on the canvas is found near river beds. The clay is applied directly to the cloth using such implements as a quill, stick or brush. Other colors are achieved from the use of vegetal dyes which come from different species of local plants and result in colors that range from ochre, to khaki, to reddish brown.