The University of Iowa University of Iowa

Women's Art and Initiation in Mendeland

by Ruth Phillips, Henrietta Cosentino and Rebecca Busselle
(R.P.) Carleton University

Young Mende women at their initiation, Yambama, Sierra Leone. Photo by Rebecca Busselle.


During my time in Bo, I took black and white photographs in order to abstract the everyday life into images that might convey the essence of my experience. Photographing Sande was different, special--everything about it had been made transcendent, long before I arrived with my camera. As I entered my second year in Sierra Leone, my main focus became to spend time with Sande women, not to learn their secrets or the specifics of their rituals, but to absorb and translate something of the power life in their presence. That the white clay covering these initiates had specific meaning within the society I had no doubt, but what fascinated me was the way it swirled and cracked on their bodies, how it somehow spoke of time, like frescoes that reveal fragments of powerful symbols on holy walls. (RB)