The Language of Beads

An interview with Kandioura Coulibaly that was published in Beadwork Magazine in 2002.


Kandioura Coulibaly is an exceptional artist, who makes jewelry and costumes for Malian cinema and theatre as well as for private clients. He is also a member of the Groupe Bogolan Kasobane, a pioneer collective of six contemporary artists who have been working together for twenty-five years.

Kandioura has been collecting and working with the stones and beads of Mali since the early 1970’s as a way of preserving the symbols and signs of beauty among the Malian peoples. He was concerned with preserving and perpetuating the traditions of Mali which were in danger of being lost because of the cultural disruption and erasure that resulted from colonialism. This is a general phenomena for many aspects of traditional Malian culture. The symbolism– the ancestral heritage– is almost forgotten and many people no longer know the uses and meanings of the traditional ways. Kandioura is a fervent advocate for a society profoundly inspired by local values and knowledge, an ardent defender of the preservation of the originality of Malian and African cultures within contemporary social modernization.

For this article, Kandioura and I discussed how and why he began collecting beads and making jewelry, the meaning and importance of beads in Malian culture, the changes that have taken place over time, and his dream to use his collection to open a bead museum in Bamako, the capitol of Mali.

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