Bamana puppeteer from Mali. From a family of carvers and puppetmasters, Yaya Coulibaly was initiated in youth into arts which occupy a high place in initiation rites. He studied drawing and art history at the Institut National des Arts (National Institute of the Arts) in Bamako where he later taught and conducted workshops. He also worked for the National Museum of Mali in the ethnography section. In 1986, he took over as director of the Troupe Nationale de Marionnettes du Mali (National Puppetry Troupe of Mali). Coulibaly added contemporary scenes to the classical repertoire of folk tales and legends, creating social satires, and used modern-style puppets. At odds with the administration, he resigned his position and in 1998 formed his own company, the Compagnie Sogolon (The Voice of Ancestors).

Yaya Coulibaly considers himself a complete artist with a two-fold artistic training: traditional and modern. Inspiration comes from dreams, fetishes and animals to hold an important place in his work. He uses rod puppets, string puppets, and body puppets. Coulibaly lives in Bamako where he sculpts his statuettes with his brother and sells his work. He also restores old pieces and teaches his children the art of manipulation.

In the 1980s, he worked for the Cameroon-born writer, playwright and performer now based in Côte d’Ivoire, Werewere Liking, and attended a workshop at the Institut International de la Marionnette in Charleville-Mézières, France in 1988. Since 1990, he has toured frequently, initially presenting his work in village festivals, then in European and African festivals. In 1999, he participated in a tour of Africa, Europe and the United States, and held shows during the 3rd Bamako Encounters, African Photography Biennial. Yaya Coulibaly’s puppet theatre brings with it a message of solidarity, peace and tolerance.

(See Mali.)