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Brett-Smith, Sarah

Position: Associate Professor
Phone: (848) 932-1326
Office Hours: Tuesdays 10:30-12:30
Office Location: Room 008E

Art of West Africa

Ph.D., Yale University, 1982

Fall 2017 courses - 371 Arts of West Africa

250 Intro to African, Oceanic, Pre-Columbian Art

Biographical Information:

Professor Brett-Smith is currently writing a book on Bamana mud cloth or bògòlanfini. This monograph is designed to balance her previous work on the production of ritual sculpture by Bamana men with an in-depth investigation of female art-making. The book will discuss the history of the mud cloth tradition, the technique of manufacture, the symbolism of the designs on the cloth, and the important role of mud cloth at critical moments -- excision, marriage, childbirth and death -- in women's lives. Her recent publications include: The Making of Bamana Sculpture: Creativity and Gender, Cambridge University Press, 1994 -- winner of the Arnold J. Rubin Award for the most outstanding book on African Art, 1993, awarded by the Arts Council of the African Studies Association, and winner of Honorable Mention for the 1995 Victor Turner Prize, awarded by the Society for Humanistic Anthropology, The Artfulness of M'Fa Jigi: An Interview with Nyamaton Diarra (University of Wisconsin Press, 1996), and "The Mouth of the Komo," RES: Anthropology and Aesthetics, 31 (1997): 71. Professor Brett-Smith's new book on mud cloth, The Silence of the Women Bamana Mud Cloths, will be published in August, 2014 by Five Continents Press. A download of the introduction to this book can be found on under Dr. Brett-Smith's page. In addition earlier articles and the introduction to Dr. Brett-Smith's 1994 book, The Making of Bamana Sculpture, can also be downloaded from this page.

Sarah and the mud cloth artist, Salimata Kone, visiting the source of the mud used by Salimata in dyeing cloth, the pond at Koumi.  1978.

SBS tata at Koumi

Select Publications:


The Silence of the Women.  Bamana Mud Cloths.  Milan: Five Continents Press, forthcoming 2014.

The Making of Bamana Sculpture: Creativity and Gender.  New York: Cambridge University Press, 1994. Won the Arnold J. Rubin award for the most outstanding book on African Art, 1993-1995, awarded by the Arts Council of the African Studies Association. Honorable Mention for the 1995 Victor Turner Prize awarded by the Society for Humanistic Anthropology.

The Artfulness of M’Fa Jigi: An Interview with Nyamaton Diarra. Madison: University of Wisconsin, 1996


“When is an Object finished: The Creation of the Invisible Among the Bamana of Mali,” RES: Anthropology and Aesthetics, no. 39, Spring 2001, pp. 102-136.


"The Mouth of the Komo," RESAnthropology and Aesthetics, no. 31, Spring 1997, pp. 71-96.


"Bamanakan ka Gelen" or "The Voice of the Bamana is Hard," Art Tribal 2, 1987, pp. 3-15.


"Symbolic Blood: Cloths for Excised Women," RES: Anthropology and Aesthetics 1982, 15-31.

"The Poisonous Child," Res: Anthropology and Aesthetics, no. 6, Autumn 1983, pp. 47-64.


Current Interests & Research:

Bamana (Bambara) sculpture: gender and art making
--The symbolism of Bamana, Dogon, Malinke, Minianka, Senufo and Bobo textiles
--Surrealism and "primitive" art.

Undergraduate Classes Taught:

Introduction to Oceanic, African and Pre-Columbian Art
--Arts of West Africa; Arts of Central Africa
--Pre-Columbian and Meso-American Art

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71 Hamilton Street
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P  848-932-7041

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