Playful African art

This weekend the Hanson Howard Gallery and Medford's Rogue Gallery are hosting an impromptu show, sale and book signing by renowned African artist Baba Wagué Diakité. The event sounds like one of those relatively unplanned parties in which everything comes together splendidly and everyone has a great time.

"We really don't have a set plan for the event. We knew that Baba Wagué would be in town with his wife, and we leapt at the opportunity to show and sell his work," said Barbara Tupper, co-owner of the Hanson Howard Gallery. "We are just excited to host him.

"He hasn't shown in the Rogue Valley before and he is a phenomenal artist," she added.

Diakité lives with his wife and children in Portland, but he was born in Mali, West Africa. He has lived in the states since 1985. From the images I've seen of Diakité's work, he is hard to categorize. He is talented in multiple forms of media, including textiles, ceramics, sculpture, children's stories and book illustrations. Diakité's first picture book, a retelling of one of his grandmother's fables called "The Hunterman and the Crocodile," was named a Coretta Scott King Honor Book. Most recently, he has teamed up with his 12-year-old daughter to publish "I Lost My Tooth in Africa," a story about the African tooth fairy. He is also a musician and storyteller.

He creates art that is often on display in galleries and museums, as well as practical household objects such as platters, cups and bowls that are made to be used.

Through his art and readings, Diakité wants to introduce people to his homeland in Mali and to enhance understanding and respect among people. As part of his efforts to increase cultural understanding, Diakité and his wife, sculptor Ronna Neuenschwander, founded the Ko-Falen Cultural Center in Bamako, Mali. The couple's non-profit center promotes cultural, artistic and educational exchanges between people in the U.S. and Mali through art workshops, dance, music and ceremony. Visit their website at to learn more about the work of the cultural center and to see Diakité's nifty sculpture of a car made from a mango nectar can.

Diakité says, "Every human, regardless of race or culture, is a leaf from one giant tree." It is his understanding of the interconnectedness of humanity that informs his art, regardless of the media he's working in.

My column mate, Vickie Aldous, is an artist and she knows a lot about art. Visit a gallery with Vickie and she will tell you about the art, its nuances, the underlying intent of the artist or why one piece is designed to be touched and another to be looked at from afar.

I, however, know very little about art. My gallery chit-chat is generally limited to "Ooh, pretty" or "that sure is shiny, huh?" Still, having seen a few images of Diakité's work, his smaller sculptures, platters and book illustrations, I can smartly recommend a visit this weekend to the Hanson Howard Gallery. Diakité's illustrations and ceramics are truly fun to look at, with playful images of animals, people and whimsical sorts of creatures that seem to combine the best of everything beautiful Diakité sees in the world. To view examples, visit

Diakité will exhibit and discuss his work at the Hanson Howard Gallery from 10:30 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday, July 31, and Sunday, Aug. 1. The gallery is at 82 N. Main St. For more information, call (541) 488-2562. The weekend event continues from 7 to 8:30 p.m. Sunday at the Rogue Gallery & Art Center, 40 N. Bartlett St., Medford.

Angela Howe-Decker is a freelance writer living in Ashland. Reach her at

Share This Story