Podai Paintings of the Loma – Guinea

The only image I can find of the podai body painting and the one that exists in Karl Gronings -‘Decorated skin’

Podai paintings of the Loma Tribe of Guinea Africa. Podai is the name given to this form of body art and the rituals where it is practiced. Podai is a tree which exists in parts of West Africa and the Women produce an ink like paint from the tree and use this to adorn younger members of the community for initiation ceremonies.

‘Podai is masterfully composed images with a completely independent visual language based on the proportions of the human body’ – Explains Karl Heinz-krieg in his documentation of the Podai paintings ritual.

Oh how I’ve gone on a journey Researching the Art of The Loma, A community based in Guinea. Originally I discovered their body painting work in Karl Groning’s ‘Decorated skin’ a brilliant anthology of body painting from cultures all around the world. What drew me to the image of a adorned, young Loma girl was the detail of the painting on her body and the fact that the paintings are part of an initiation ceremony for young girls of the Loma community. During this rite of passage ceremony the girls live in Bush camps outside of the traditional settlements and they are painted by experienced artists, women of the community who have practiced Podai paintings for many years. A key feature of the Body painting is the ‘lip closing line’ a line painted across the face above the lips – signifying the girls must remain silent for the duration of the ceremony ’till the dancing is over’. After reading about this practice I really wanted to find more information, images, documents of the girls initiation and the painting process. I spent nearly a whole day scouring the internet trying to find more images of painting in action but I couldn’t find anything – I’d read in Groning’s book that artists of this community like other communities in Africa painted houses with the Podai paintings and searched and searched trying to find examples. Eventually changing my search criteria and looking for Loma Liberia, as some Loma communities exist in neighbouring countries I found an Amazing resource.


http://www.kunst-aus-westafrika.com – A German Shop and Gallery space selling African art but they have an amazing website documenting artistic traditions of various African communities in central and west Africa. Art Dealer, collector and Writer KARL-HEINZ KRIEG went on many research trips to Guinea and surrounding areas photographing and collecting examples of African art. https://www.kunst-aus-westafrika.com/karlheinz-krieg – here details his many trips. There’s a beautiful Gallery of Podai paintings designs from different artists which Heinz-Krieg met in person and he not only witnessed the art in person and photographed a Loma girl being painting (probably the only image that exists of the tradition – or t least the only one I can find on the internet), he spent a lot of time with the individual artists and paid them to paint designs on paper and board and those designs now exist in digital from as a gallery on his website – There was an exhibition of art-work and artefacts back in 2016 – I presume it would’ve encompassed The podai paintings – it’s amazing to be able to access such a vast gallery of images of designs collect by Heinz-Krieg, he also collected information about the women who were practicing Podai painting and their is individual bio’s of the artists on his website – which are an incredible insight into the tradition of Podai painting and the women of the Loma.

An Image lifted from https://www.kunst-aus-westafrika.com/ A Gallery of photographs of all the Podai painters which Heinz-war worked with

It’s interesting to hear the range of tradition and generational differences in the women pictured above. I found the work of one of the above artists Kolouma Sovogi very beautiful, but it seems that in the community her work is not revered as she seems like quite a character who had a bootleg alcohol business which was continually finding her in trouble with the authorities. Below are some examples of her work.

Artist Koloumi Sovogi – collected by Karl-heinz Krieg

As I’ve stated it has been pretty difficult to find many Images of this body painting tradition actually in action and I think thats because there hasn’t been much documentation on this specific custom and there seems to be an element of secrecy and protection surrounding the rites of passage, initiation process these young girls go through, they live in make-shift bush camps for up to 4 years learning the craft of Podai painting – painting over and over again. The bush-camps were kept a secret as the president of Guinea Sékou Touré (1958-84) was a devout Muslim from the Mandinka ethnic group and forbid most other cultural traditions and Podai painting was forbidden during this time but the tradition stayed alive – Women secretly teaching their children in these hidden bush camps. I only hope that the Tradition prevails now and that the spate of globalisation which floods the planet doesn’t bring an end to beautiful cultural traditions such as this one.

This being said I’m so happy I found this resource I think it’s unusual to have such an extensive account of Women only initiation activities and also to have a Gallery of work by Women African artists and contacting biographies which give a clear understanding of these individuals and the roles they played within their societies.

Karl Heinz Krieg photography – Mama Gaou painting Savo Onivogi.

‘1987 was my first meeting with Mama Gaou. On the drive to Kindia, where I wanted to work on my batik project, we chose Nyanguézazou as a place to sleep. The next morning I discovered wonderful house paintings all over the village, which, I was told, were mostly painted by Mama Gaou for the girls’ initiation festival in 1986. She made a few drawings on paper for me. She also painted a little girl. This is how the photo documentation about Savo Onivogi was created. When we arrived in Nyanguézazou unannounced in 1989, she took us to the village of Segbémé. During the four-day initiation festival there, we got to know many other Podai painters, so that after the holidays we chose Segbémé as the new center for our work. The encounter with Mama Gaou set the course for us: In her person, almost all the factors that are needed for the success of a project in Africa met: As the widow of a former lieutenant, she was a woman of particularly high esteem and the oldest and best (and at that time still active) Podai painter, which was fully in the old tradition. Therefore she was very respected in the women’s world and had a great influence on women’s issues. She was a wonderful personality, was open, honest and easy to deal with. For me it was a stroke of luck: the key to the gate of the podal painting.’ – This is Lifted from the Biography of Mama Gaou on the Karl Heinz Krieg Site. 

Koloumi Sovogi painting a house in the traditional Podai style.

Also from this amazing resource is some recordings of Music of the Loma people, very beautiful and worth a listen, I have Linked below. I think it’s amazing Karl Heinz Krieg was able to visit the Loma people on multiple occasions and develop a relationship which enabled him to preserve there art form in this way, Other than the information found on his website which advertised the exhibition held at a gallery in Germany I couldn’t find any other information about this art form the initiation ceremonies or the Loma people themselves.


Below is an Image I’ve painted influenced by the Photographs taken by Heinz-Krieg and the Podai paintings he collected.

Loma Girl – painted by myself Lizzie Rigby

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