Senufo Cloth Paintings

Making-a-Senufo-Cloth-PaintingThe Senufo people of West Africa’s Ivory Coast are renowned for their cloth paintings. They believe their artwork has special meaning and helps protect them in their daily lives. They design cloth paintings with pictures of birds, snakes, fish, frogs, crocodiles, and turtles.  Usually they paint a side view, or use a perspective from high above looking down.  They also cover their paintings with lots of geometric patterns and interesting colors. The Senufo people believed all animals had spirits and often outlined their animals paintings with a thick band of yellow to represent that kind of energy. Finally, they painted their background whatever color they wanted.  Usually the background color provided strong contrast so the animal figure really pops out.

Traditionally, the Senufo people sewed their cloth paintings into clothing.  Hunters and dancers both used them in their attire to bring them luck and good fortune.  The Senufo people still make cloth paintings, but they don’t sew them into clothes anymore.  They sell the paintings to tourists.

Tyler created this turtle with an amazing energy spirit outline and bright blue background. He was meticulous with his shell designs. He did this with a black sharpie marker, colored tempera paints, and white fabric.



Elizabeth decided to create a turtle with lots of geometric details and a dark background. This is a tempera on cloth painting. The contrast between the yellow spirit energy and the dark background really makes her picture pop!


Additional Layers:

  • Throughout many areas of the world and across time, people have expressed themselves artistically.  What can you learn about our similarities as people of many different cultures by looking at our art?
  • What significance does line play in Senufo art?  Can you spot different kinds of lines within it?
  • The Senufo people are famous for their masks and pottery.  The people tend to be either farmers or artisans.  Being an artisan is a highly respected job, and art is highly valued there.  It has been an interesting change to go from  traditional,value-based Senufo art to commercialism for tourists since World War II.  If you were an artist at heart, would you rather create for the sake of creating, or would you rather create to get paid?  (Most artists would LOVE to get paid, but love it enough to keep creating even without a buyer, hence the term “starving artist.”)

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