Re-analysing the Baining: The Mytho-Poetics of Race, Gender and Art
Journal article, Peer reviewed
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Original versionOceania. 2020, 90 (2), 98-150. 10.1002/ocea.5248
This article criticises primitivist caricatures of the Baining in Melanesia as a society that lacks exegesis, symbolic logics, religion, structures of power and control, and even an interest in play. The mytho-poetics of gender and procreation in Mali Baining society are documented by focusing on how art and sexuality are traced onto each other. The formative power of painting, barkcloth, dancing masks, netbags and music are merged with the formative power of women. Art and sexuality are made to inform each other's generative potential, and even each other's aesthetic charm. These fertile mytho-poetic practices also underpin Mali political practices. Mali indigenous identity is celebrated as local control over the original powers of creation, which continue to reside in the earth, in the local landscape and, above all, in that which underpins all creation, women's procreative bodies with their creative potential to bring forth something new. The Mali localise creative processes so as to empower and revalue themselves within a culture of resistance to the hegemony of colonialism, modernity, settlers and regional ethnic elites.