For more than a century, art historians, dealers, and other connoisseurs have identified some art from West Africa as Senufo. Why?
Twentieth-century art enthusiasts in Europe and America often classified sculpture by cultural or ethnic group on the basis of an object’s form. This approach assumes a one-to-one correspondence between a cultural or ethnic group and art style. In 1908, French colonial administrator Maurice Delafosse created a map delineating a so-called Senufo country. His map implies that a single cultural or ethnic group occupies a bounded geographic area. The accompanying text further suggests the group has its own language, social organization, religion, and art.
At the close of the twentieth century, scholars began to question this idea of discrete cultural or ethnic groups.
The term Senufo does not on its own suffice to define or explain people or arts with which it has been linked. In Senufo Unbound: Dynamics of Art and Identity in West Africa, Susan Elizabeth Gagliardi demonstrates that the multivalent Senufo label operates on many and at times contradictory levels. The Senufo label informs and is shaped by the experiences of people who identify or are identified as Senufo as well as the arts these people create and support.
Mapping Senufo is an ongoing collaborative digital initiative that focuses on arts commonly labeled as Senufo from an area spanning the present-day borders of Burkina Faso, Côte d’Ivoire, and Mali in West Africa. Work is currently underway for the development of a born-digital publication, Mapping Senufo: Art, Evidence, and the Production of Knowledge.