The Mud-Brick Mosques of Mali

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This exhibition explores mud-brick mosques of Mali, their materials and stylistic elements, using photographs taken by University of Minnesota Art and Architectural Historian Emeritus John Archer in 1996. Blurring the lines between architecture and sculpture, the mud-brick masonry techniques practiced in Mali predate the arrival of Islam in the region. Within this tradition, sun-dried mud bricks held together with a mortar of mud and palm-wood beams take shape under the guidance of master masons. The baked bricks are finished in a layer of wet earth, which is refreshed regularly to heal the wounds inflicted by a season of rain. In the mosques depicted in this collection, the architectural requirements of the prayer hall, its courtyards, entryways, minarets, and mihrab have all been adapted to the demands of these traditional techniques. From the monumental mosques at Djenné and Mopti to the village mosques at Kara and Sebi, communities still come together, often annually, to refresh the mud rendering of their walls, and repair damaged brick and roof tiles, thus keeping alive vernacular architectural techniques that are more than a millennia in the making.