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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

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.

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.