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Arnoldi, Mary Jo

Curator of African Ethnology

African ethnography with emphasis on visual, material, and performing arts; post-colonial public culture, museum history and museology; African Diaspora in the New World


Geographic Focus

Background And Education

Education And Training

  • Ph.D. in African Art History, Indiana University , Department of Art, with concentrations in African Studies and Anthropology. Dissertation research in Mali from 1978-1980 on masquerade performances 1975 - 1983
  • M.A. in Art History, Michigan State University , Department of Art, concentration in African Art History and African Studies 1973 - 1975
  • B.F.A. in Studio Art and Art History, Bowling Green State University , Department of Art 1966 - 1970

Professional Biography

  • My research interests include cultural heritage and tourism in Africa; issues of ethnicity and identity formation; and studies
    of African material culture and performance, as well as the ethnography of museum displays of Africa and its Diaspora and the life histories of African objects in museums. My research program combines humanities and social science perspectives and includes field research primarily in Mali in West Africa and collections-based research on a broad range of African objects at the
    Smithsonian and in museum collections worldwide. My current research projects include a multi-year study of state sponsored
    cultural initiatives in Mali from 1960 to the present and a study of the Smithsonian’s Herbert Ward collection of Africana.

Awards And Honors

Public Biography

  • Dr. Mary Jo Arnoldi is the Curator for African arts and ethnology at the National Museum of Natural History at the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, D.C.  She has been doing research on arts and performance in Mali, Senegal and the Gambia for over 40 years. She has published numerous articles and several books on Malian puppetry arts and performance and on African art and material culture. She was lead curator on the new permanent exhibition, African Voices (1999). She co-curated the exhibitions Mud Masons of Mali (2013)and Objects of Wonder(2017) at the Museum. She also co-curated the traveling exhibition, Crowning Achievements: African Arts of Dressing the Head (1994)and co-curated the Mali program, From Timbuktu to Washington: Mali on the National Mall, for the 37th Smithsonian Folklife Festival in 2003 which featured the work of over 150 Malian artisans and musicians. 



Selected Publications

  • Article

    • Arnoldi, Mary Jo. 2018. "Masks, Puppets and Masquerades: Reflections on Field Research in Mali; 1978-1980." Mande Studies, 20 111–122. 2018
    • Arnoldi, Mary Jo. 2016. "All the World's Futures: The 55th Venice Biennale." African Arts, 49, (3) 84–85. 2016
    • Arnoldi, Mary Jo. 2014. "Preservation and Heritage Management in Mali: The Old towns of Djenné and the Sanké Mon fishing rite." Africa Today, 61, (1) 46–67. 2014
    • Arnoldi, Mary Jo. 2012. ""From Timbuktu to Washington" Reflections on the 2003 Mali Porgram at the Smithsonian Folklife Festival." Africa Today, 59, (1) 3–24. 2012
    • Arnoldi, Mary Jo. 2012. "Ivan Karp (1943-2011)." African Arts, 45, (2) 8. 2012
    • Arnoldi, Mary Jo. 2007. "Bamako, Mali: Monuments and Modernity in the Urban Imagination." Africa Today, 54, (2) 2–24. 2007
  • Book

    • Arnoldi, Mary Jo. 2014. Masks and Puppets from Mali: Artistry, Imagination and Knowledge. Lisbon: Museu Nacionale de etnologia. Imprensa Nacional-Casa da Moeda. 2014
    • Arnoldi, Mary Jo. 2014. Máscaras e Marionetas do Mali Criação, Imaginação e Conhecimento. Lisbon: Museu Nationale de Etnologia et Imprensa Nacional-Casa da Moeda. 2014
  • Chapter

    • Arnoldi, Mary Jo. 2022. "The Community Speaks with Many Voices: Representing Cultural Heritage in the Smithsonian's African Voices Exhibition." In Heritage Practices in Africa. Iida, Taku, editor. 149–164. Osaka, Japan: National Museum of Ethnology. In Senri Ethnological Studies, 109. 2022
    • Arnoldi, Mary Jo. 2021. "Sogobo: Puppet Arts and Masquerade in Mali." In Bodies of Enchantment: Puppets from Asia, Europe, Africa and the Americas. Levell, Nicola, editor. 141–160. Vancouver, British Columbia: University of British Columbia Museum of Anthropology. 2021
    • Arnoldi, Mary Jo, Keita, Daouda, and Sidibe, Samuel. 2021. "The National Museum of Mali, 1960-present:: Protecting and Promoting the National Cultural Heritage." In National Museums in Africa: History, Identity and Politics. Silverman, Raymond, Abungu, George, and Probst, Peter, editors. 139–158. London and New York: Routledge. 2021
    • Arnoldi, Mary Jo. 2018. "Bamana Arts and Mande Traditions." In Oxford Bibliographies in Art History. Kaufmann, Thomas DaCosta, editor. New York: Oxford University Press. 2018
    • Arnoldi, Mary Jo. 2016. "A Throwing Knife in Motion: The Journey from the Congo to the Smithsonian." In Engaging Smithsonian Objects through Science, History, and the Arts. Arnoldi, Mary Jo, editor. 175–191. Washington, DC: Smithsonian Institution Scholarly Press. 2016
    • Arnoldi, Mary Jo. 2016. "Locating History in Concrete and Bronze: Civic Monuments in Bamako, Mali." In A Companion to Public Art. Krause Knight, Cher and Senie, Harriet F., editors. 93–107. Hoboken: John Wiley & Sons, Inc. 2016
    • Arnoldi, Mary Jo. 2016. "Material Matters: Ways of Knowing Museum Objects." In Engaging Smithsonian Objects through Science, History, and the Arts. Arnoldi, Mary Jo, editor. 1–11. Washington, DC: Smithsonian Institution Scholarly Press. 2016
    • Arnoldi, Mary Jo. 2013. "Who Owns the Past?: Constructing an Art History of a Malian Masquerade." In African Art, Interviews, Narratives: Bodies of Knowledge at Work. Grabski, Joanna and Magee, Carol, editors. 131–145. Bloomington, IN: Indiana University Press. In African Expressive Cultures. 2013
    • Arnoldi, Mary Jo. 2011. "Maraka Face Mask with Costume." In [Exhibit Catalog:] Ancestors of Congo Square African Art in the New Orleans Museum of Art. Fagaly, William, editor. 72–73. New Orleans, LA: New Orleans Museum of Art. 2011
    • Arnoldi, Mary Jo. 2010. "Headdress and Hairdos." In Berg encyclopedia of world dress and fashion. Eicher, Joanne and Ross, Doran, editors. 100–106. Oxford, UK: Berg Publishers. 1 2010
    • Arnoldi, Mary Jo. 2010. "Malian Dress." In Berg encyclopedia of world dress and fashion. Eicher, Joanne and Ross, Doran, editors. 278–283. Oxford: Berg. 1 2010
    • Arnoldi, Mary Jo. 2008. "From the Diorama to the Dialogic: A Century of Exhibiting Africa at the Smithsonian Museum of Natural History." In Human Zoos: Science and Spectacle in the Age of Colonial Empires. Blanchard, Pascal, Bancel, Nicolas, Boetsch, Gilles, Deroo, Eric, Lemaire, Sandrine, and Forsdick, Charles, editors. 307–327. Liverpool, UK: Liverpool University Press. 2008
    • Arnoldi, Mary Jo and den Otter, Elisabeth. 2008. "Puppet Masquerade in Kirango, Mali: Continuity, Innovation and Changing Contexts." In Mande Mansa Essays in Honor of David C. Conrad. Belcher, Stephen, Jansen, Jan, and N'Daou, Mohamed, editors. 7–15. New Brunswick and London: Transaction Publishers. 2008
  • Review

    • Arnoldi, Mary Jo. 2009. [Book review] "African Art and the Colonial Encounter: Inventing a Global Commodity, by Sidney Littlefield Kasfir." Research in African Literatures, 40, (3), 246–247. 2009
  • Webpage

    • Arnoldi, Mary Jo. 2013. Arts of Western Africa. 2013

Editor Of

  • Book

    • Arnoldi, Mary Jo, editor. 2016. Engaging Smithsonian objects through science, history, and the arts. Washington, DC: Smithsonian Institution Scholarly Press. 2016
    • Arnoldi, Mary Jo and Sullivan, Jack , editors. 2014. Narratives of the African Landscape: Perspectives on Sustainability. Indiana University Press. In Africa Today. 2014