The Baga peoples of Guinea have long inspired the world through their cultural legacy. In fact, artists like Picasso and Matisse were inspired by the masks of Western Africa, and it is fitting that we are now able to offer your direct access to this cultural legacy via our officially-licensed artclones.
Looking past the waves of colonization in Western Africa, the art and identity of the inhabitants of the coastland in Guinea continues to inspire the world today. None of these symbols were more important than the Nimba or D’mba – the carved wooden masterpieces depicting women as a symbol of fertility and strength. Nimba masks were carved to represent the power of life – and the woman’s role as protector of heritage.
The heavy Nimba masks were worn at important public functions – weddings, funerals, at planting and harvest time – to demonstrate the generative power of the female. The Nimba represents the ideal female role in Baga society. Unlike a goddess or spirit, the Nimba embodies a vision of powerful, beautiful, and influential women. The typical Nimba figure portrays a woman who has given birth to many children and raised them to adulthood.
The Baga Nimba’s hair is usually braided into rows that mimic the patterns of crops in West African fields. The scars on the head, face, and breasts of the Baga Nimba symbolize her ability to adapt to the natural environment. Nimba is present in all aspects of Baga life, and she often shows up at public events like weddings, funerals, and harvest celebrations to offer guidance, inspiration, and direction. Ultimately, Nimba serves as a reminder of the respected qualities that shape the Baga social system.
As the Baga people were colonized by successive religions and cultures, it was the women who protected and kept the Nimba as a symbol of identity. Note how the scarification of the face represents tiny seeds of grain, and the hair is braided in rows – to represent the agricultural patterns of planting and harvest. The scars on the head, face, and breasts of the Baga Nimba symbolize her ability to adapt to the natural environment.
Today the Nimba takes its rightful place as a symbol of human purpose and expression in the face of change. As an artclone, it expands the cultural legacy of the Baga and brings this heritage into the everyday lives of the enlightened collector or designer.
Barbara Dal Corso works at the intersection of art and technology. She is the co-founder of ARTficial, the maker of the world’s first officially-licensed artclones.