Painted Screen, Baltu



Painted Screen, Baltu




late 19th-early 20th Century


West Africa


Pigment, raffia palm pith
32 x 45 in. (81.3 x 114.3 cm)

Object Number



Mambila painted screens, called baltu, are extremely rare and fragile objects. Painted in natural pigments on a wooden canvas of porous raffia palm pith, these screens once decorated small communal shrine houses. These shrines served as storehouses for ritual objects (masks and fiber costumes, pottery, and musical instruments) used by the Suaga society to ensure social harmony between men and women, and in performances that promoted bountiful agricultural yields. This symbolism extends to the appearance of the shrines that resemble miniature granaries since, like actual ones, they were raised on stilts. Baltu screens were installed on the facade, along with numerous raffia pith figures carved in male-female pairs.

Represented on this baltu are male and female figures encompassed by a rainbow. The circles at the top left and right represent the sun and the moon. The triangle seen above the figures is a symbol of the village. Thus, the symmetrical arrangement of motifs emphasizes balance between the genders and the placement of the human world (the village) within a greater cosmological realm.

Credit Line

Ex coll. William S. Arnett


Cameroon Art: Selections from the Collection of William Arnett, The Art Gallery, Kennesaw State College, Kennesaw, Georgia, January 30 - March 22, 1989|
Art of Nigeria from the William S. Arnett Collection, Michael C. Carlos Museum, October 15, 1994 - January 2, 1995|
The Art of Collecting: Recent Acquisitions at the Michael C. Carlos Museum, Michael C. Carlos Museum, November 8, 1997 - January 4, 1998|
African Cosmos: Stellar Arts (travelling show), National Museum of African Art, June 20 - December 9, 2012; Newark Museum, February 27 - August 11, 2013; Michael C. Carlos Museum, January 31 - June 21, 2015
George Nelson Preston, Sets, Series & Ensembles in African Art (New York: Harry N. Abrams, Inc., 1985), 61, number 56.|
Cameroon Art: Selections from the Collection of William Arnett (Kennesaw: The Art Gallery, Kennesaw State College, 1989), 3, number 59.|
Michael C. Carlos Museum Handbook (Atlanta: Michael C. Carlos Museum, 1996), 104.|
Michael C. Carlos Museum: Highlights of the Collections (Atlanta: Michael C. Carlos Museum, 2011), 104.|
Christine Mullen Kreamer, African Cosmos: Stellar Arts (Washington, D.C.: National Museum of African Art, Smithsonian Institution, 2012), 142, catalogue 7.33.


© Michael C. Carlos Museum, Emory University. Photo by Michael McKelvey.
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“Painted Screen, Baltu,” Michael C. Carlos Museum Collections Online, accessed December 10, 2018,

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