Buying Art in Burkina Faso

The Art Market in Burkina Faso: A Personal Recollection

Christopher D. Roy

Thirty years ago Burkina Faso was considered to be the end of the earth. Significant numbers of tourists have begun to visit this small, very poor country only in the past twenty years. Many tourists have been attracted by the spectacular mask performances that are held in rural villages. Many tourists purchase souvenirs in the capital city to take home with them when they leave . On the other hand, Burkina Faso continues to be a source for valuable “artifacts” for the art market as objects are made, used, broken, replaced, and discarded before being shipped to France, London, or New York.

I have been familiar with the art market in Burkina Faso and especially in the capital, Ouagadougou, since 1970, when I began to work at the national art centre in Ouagadougou as a Peace Corps volunteer. I had studied art history and pottery at St. Lawrence University, and I spoke fluent French because I had attended the Sorbonne for a year, and so when my wife Nora and I applied for the Peace Corps they assigned us to what was then called Upper Volta (Haute-Volta) and is now Burkina Faso. I was one of five Peace Corps volunteers who were recruited to work at the Centre Voltaique des Arts, an art centre that had been established by a French artist named Louis Laouchez. Just before we arrived in Burkina Faso, the French director was fired and expelled from the country (it seems he had had an argument with the minister of education), and because I spoke French well they asked me to take over temporarily as director.

The other Peace Corps volunteers were specialists in such things as batiks, macramé, sculpture and weaving. They were Frances Burckhard, Josh Hoffman, Gene French, Alfred Mock and Robert Carvuto. We all worked at the art centre for a very pleasant two years. When we began there were about thirty African artists working there. When we left there were seventy-five artists from Burkina Faso employed at the art centre.

The Centre Voltaique des Arts is now the Centre National d’Artisanat d’Art (CNAA),[1] [DC1] but it remains on Avenue Dim Delobsom, near the central post office. It is still a very lively place full of productive artists who continue to create objects to sell to tourists. Unfortunately, land speculators have had their eye on the property for years and today it is under threat of being expropriated to build banks or government buildings.

In the late 1980s the chamber of commerce constructed the Village Artisanal de Ouagadougou[2] on the route circulaire (Boulevard Tengsoba). This project began in about 1971 or 1972 with a meeting in Ouagadougou of a large number of French expatriates (a meeting I attended and for which I purchased an administrator’s suit, a “tenue de fonctionnaire”). The group was intent on creating a site that would attract more tourists to Burkina Faso, and among the proposals was the creation of a living history museum similar to the one for which the city of Niamey, Niger, is famous. The current village artisanal is quite large and well set up, although it is a little bit less lively than the old art centre where I served as a Peace Corps volunteer. The village produces lots of very good quality materials to be sold to visitors to the country, including excellent textiles, leather work, basketry, brass casting and a variety of other art forms. Every fall there is an international art and craft fair at the village artisanal, which I have never been able to attend because it is always held in the fall semester when I must be teaching. It is called the Salon International de l’Artisanat de Ouagadougou (SIAO).[3] The most recent was held in November 2014 with the theme “Artisanat africain: entreprenariat feminin et protection sociale.”[4]

One of my responsibilities at the Centre Voltaique des Arts was to export as much of the art from the centre as possible. The intention was to bring hard currency into the economy of Burkina Faso. We regularly received very large orders from major department store chains in France and the United States. I remember filling orders for hundreds and hundreds of baskets, and hundreds of pounds of brass castings. The kinds of objects that our artists made at the art centre included a lot of very good quality brass casting, and especially handmade wax-resist batiks. There were a number of other kinds of art that sold well locally but did not export well. These included large-scale stone sculpture and most of the pottery. The artists had never made batiks before and so Gene French, Robert Carvuto and Alfred Mock taught them how to do it. The art form took off so quickly that before long we were selling thousands of CFA francs worth of batiks every day. The other major source of income was the brass casting, which had been an important art form in Burkina Faso for centuries: Mossi brass casters had been making equipment for horses since at least the sixteenth century.

Batiks were the major contribution made by volunteers Robert Carvuto, Gene French and Alfred Mock. The technique was totally unknown in Burkina Faso until 1970 when Robert, Gene and Alfred began to train a group of twenty apprentices at the art centre. Within a year their apprenticeship had been completed and they were replaced by twenty new apprentices. Within two years there were several dozen skilled batikers working in Ouagadougou and selling their work in many of the capital cities in West Africa. That technique has since spread all across Africa and become a ubiquitous and popular art form. Twenty years ago a group of African students who were studying at the University of Iowa invited me to an exhibition of art from their home countries. Among the objects displayed from Burkina Faso were batiks like those that Robert, Gene and Alfred had taught the apprentices at the art centre. The students were very proud of their cultural heritage in the form of batiks that, unknown to them, did not exist before 1970.

During the two years of our Peace Corps service, my wife Nora and I often looked at objects that had been made out in rural villages by practicing carvers and then brought into Ouagadougou by art dealers to sell. The dealers brought these objects to our home in Ouagadougou where they laid them out on our front porch. Some were old and already damaged, and would have been replaced at home by new carvings and the originals sent to the capital city to sell. There were rarely some very fine quality pieces that would perhaps benefit a museum either in Burkina Faso or in America. Most of the objects were much more recently made by artists in the rural towns who were carving figures and masks in large numbers with the express intent of sending them to Ouagadougou to be sold by art dealers. Almost all of these objects had been artificially aged to make them appear older than they really were. I don’t recall any of the techniques that the carvers used being very sophisticated. They simply smoked the objects in the rafters of a woman’s kitchen for a period of time to gave them the appearance of age. They all smelled strongly of wood smoke. It was not very hard to tell that the objects were fairly new, and that they had a thin, recent patina of soot. One of the Peace Corps volunteers who taught sculpture was from Chicago, Illinois, and was intent on acquiring large numbers of good quality sculptures to take back home with him. He stayed in Ouagadougou for only one year and then left. Many years later I had a chance to see the objects that he had purchased when he offered them for sale, and they were the very same sort of new copies that the artists in the rural villages had been making to send off to the art dealers in Ouagadougou. I don’t recall any of them being of “museum quality.”

The principal place to buy art in Ouagadougou in the early 1970s was an extensive market in front of the railroad hotel called the Regie Abidjan Niger (RAN). The market was a long series of stalls with thatched roofs, and underneath were tables on which were piled vast quantities of brass and wood objects. There were a large number of masks and figures carved of wood in the styles of different peoples in Burkina Faso, as well as large quantities of brass bracelets which had been discarded in the previous decades and were being sold almost for scrap. The brass casters at the art centre and I would regularly go to the stalls and purchase brass bracelets by the sack full to take back to the art centre, where they were heated and broken up to cast figures to sell to tourists. There was very little imported art from such places as Conakry, Guinea, in the stalls in front of the hotel, but there were quite a large number of Chiwara crests from Bamako, Mali. I think that the artists in Burkina Faso were so prolific that few of the art dealers felt much need to purchase objects from as far away as Guinea. Almost all of the objects were gray and dusty and badly eroded from careless handling. Many had been displayed for sale for decades and had suffered as a consequence. None resembled in the least the sorts of objects that were being used by people in rural villages.

In the mid-1980s the entire city of Ouagadougou was surveyed officially and new streets were cut with bulldozers. All of the old shops disappeared and were moved to a series of brand new, beautifully constructed shops alongside the Place d’Armes (Army Plaza) which is across from several big banks and from the major army barracks in Ouagadougou. This large square is the site of a spectacular crafts market every second year during the Pan-African film and television festival FESPACO.[5] Those stalls are still there and are thriving. They continue to sell very much the same kinds of things that were being sold in the 1970s, although in the past twenty years they have begun to sell other more exotic and interesting objects including costumes from the Fulani people. Larger and larger numbers of brass castings are being made by casters in the city who do not work at the art centre. Many of these are extraordinarily large, and I often wonder how anybody gets them back home to Europe or America.

The key player in the art market in Ouagadougou from 1960 to 1980 was the director of the national museum, Toumani Triandé. He had been trained as a young man before independence by the great French anthropologist Guy Le Moal, who was a scholar of the Bobo people. Triandé had been a devout Muslim all of his life, and in 1984 Le Moal told me that he was very worried that Triandé would systematically sell all of the objects in the museum. Le Moal proved to be correct. When I first visited the museum in 1970, at its old location at the Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique et Technologique (CNRST; formerly IFAN), across from the main hospital, most of the collection was still intact and contained many superb objects that Le Moal had collected before 1960. Soon after it was moved to the Hotel Independence on the main avenue downtown. It was still there in the mid-1980s when I was doing research as a faculty member at the University of Iowa. Between 1970 when I first saw the collection and 1985 when I last visited at the Hotel Independence, large numbers of objects disappeared and were replaced by copies that had clearly been carved recently. A decade or so ago a brand new art museum was built out at the edge of the city near the village artisanal which was established by the Chamber of Commerce. Triandé is long since deceased and the new art museum is professionally staffed by a very competent director. They do their very best to display what few objects survive in the museum, and often have to make do with photo displays. They are struggling mightily to acquire some objects for their permanent collection and they are making steady progress.

Triandé hired a number of artists from rural villages, including and especially a young artist from the village of Ouri named Poboye Konaté (fig. 1), to come to Ouagadougou and copy objects in the museum as closely and carefully as possible. These new objects were then put on display, and the original objects disappeare – I can only imagine to make their way quickly to Paris. I am sure that none of those objects was ever offered for sale locally for fear that someone might recognize that they had come from the museum. Poboye Konaté died of HIV/AIDS in the late 1980s. He is still known in the village of Ouri as a voleur des masques. His younger brother is currently one of the art dealers who travels frequently to Ouagadougou to offer objects for sale. I have no indication that this younger brother ever steals anything from the village.

One of the volunteers at the art centre until 1969 was a young man named Norman Stokstad. He returned to the art museum as a Peace Corps volunteer in the mid-1970s and made a photographic record of everything in the art museum. Norman recently sent me copies of the photographs he took, and I intend to post them on the Internet in an effort to locate some of the objects that were sold from the museum during this sad period. I also photographed a large number of the objects in the museum, at least the ones that were on public display, between 1976 and 1977 (fig. 2). I am tempted to post the photos online as evidence of objects that were stolen from the museum.

Triandé was also involved in the visits to Ouagadougou of a number of important personalities in the world of African art in the 1960s and 1970s. I believe he hosted William Fagg at some point, although I don’t know exactly when Fagg visited Ouagadougou. It must have been before I began graduate studies at Indiana in 1973 because one of the first books I found in the Indiana library was by Fagg, in which he wrote that “the Mossi no longer make art and most of them have become Muslim.” I am quite sure that he got this drivel from Triandé. Triandé was the head of the Muslim league in Ouagadougou before he died. I am also convinced that Triandé was involved in the purchase of several very beautiful Gurunsi figures which are now in public and private collections in France and Switzerland. I suspect, but I don’t know for sure, that the dealer involved was Henri Kamer. I don’t imply that anything was done illegally; after all, anything could be exported with the permission of the museum director. Nothing important ever left Burkina Faso without Triandé’s knowledge. Whenever I exported the production of the art centre I was required to go to Triandé’s office with a list of the objects, in triplicate, that he could sign and stamp for customs at the airport.

Triandé was also very much in control of the art dealers in Ouagadougou, who either carried objects around to the villas of European expatriates or flew with them to Paris. He made very sure that all of the art dealers showed him important objects before they left the country. The principal dealer whom I knew was named Mamadou Diarra. He was not a native of Burkina Faso (he was either from Mali or Guinea) and knew very little about what objects were used for in rural villages or what they meant. Occasionally I would engage him in conversation about where objects came from, who had owned them, how they had been used and what they meant. It was immediately obvious that he made up everything that he told me and that he in fact knew absolutely nothing about art in rural villages. However, he could tell the difference between an old and authentic piece and a brand new copy. He was an extremely unpleasant and disreputable person. There was another very important dealer in Bobo-Dioulasso named Harouna, whom I met in 1977, and from whom I purchased a few small objects. There were also two important dealers in Ouagadougou named Issa and Bernard. I have not seen any of these people since the mid-1980s.

For at least forty years the laws of Burkina Faso have stated that any cultural objects must be approved for export by the museum director. For decades art dealers would fill a crate with all of the “copies” that they could find and haul it off to the art museum, where the director looked at it and signed an inventory saying that the items  were all approved for export. The art dealers then substituted very valuable, high-quality cultural treasures for the old copies, submitted the list to customs at the airport, where the customs official merely counted to make sure that the number of objects in the crate matched the number on the inventory, and shipped them out of the country. This is how so many objects of value left the country so easily.

Today in Ouagadougou there is an excellent shop, in a private home right next to the radio station, which was owned by a former pilot for Air Afrique and is now owned and run by his son.[6] These men are quite knowledgeable, and they sell both old and heavily worn but authentic objects such as stools, as well as hundreds of other kinds of objects from all over West Africa. In some cases these have obviously been purchased in bulk and they are stored outside the house (fig. 3). In other cases the objects are quite beautiful, in good condition, and valuable; these are displayed inside the home. The men also sell new objects they have commissioned, including beautiful Tuareg jewelry made of silver. There is a wonderful mix of valuable, high-quality, authentic pieces and blatantly “decorative” tourist objects (“copies”), but most of the latter are of good quality, and if you can recognize the difference it is worth a visit. The sellers are both professional and ethical, and I think that their shop has become the place Ouagadougou expatriates go to today for good-quality objects. I am quite sure that whenever they export they do all of the paperwork required. Every time I go to Ouagadougou I stop at their shop and purchase jewellery for my wife and daughter. I once purchased a Senufo kpelie mask that is either authentic or has been so perfectly faked that it is difficult for me to detect how it has been done, even after having seen a thousand fakes offered by art dealers. It is an excellent testament to the skills of the dealers in Korhogo, Côte d’Ivoire, in ageing art.

The major source of most of the objects carved for export and sold in Ouagadougou and Bobo-Dioulasso are the families of artists in such towns as Boni and Ouri. There are many, many others throughout the country but these are the two that I know best. There are still hundreds of extremely skilled and talented artists all over Burkina Faso who regularly carve excellent objects to be used in a traditional village context. The principal characters are Yacouba Bondé in the Bwa village of Boni (fig. 4), and the several carvers of the Konaté family in the Winiama village of Ouri, north of Boromo (fig. 5). All of these artists are quite legitimate and are doing nothing at all illegal. They are extremely creative, and I have enjoyed many years of visiting them and speaking with them about the objects they carve that are used in their villages. I wrote an extensive article for the second edition of the catalogue titled Art and Life in Africa: Selections from the Stanley Collection (1991) in which I talked about the fact that the Konaté carvers are able to carve objects in several different styles for all of the people who live in the region (a direct attack on the idea of “one tribe, one style”). They are by no means limited to the styles of their own group of people, but can and do carve in at least five other ethnic group’s styles (fig. 6). The very first time I visited them in 1983, there was an enormous pile of brand new carved “sun” masks of the type that have been illustrated in European catalogues (fig. 7). These had been stacked up ready to be sent off to Ouagadougou. I was told that one of the men in the family would load them on his moped and take them to Ouagadougou the next day. The numbers of these objects and the income they generate is so small that the carvers cannot possibly survive just by carving objects for traditional use. All of them carve large numbers of what they call “copies” to be sold in Ouagadougou. The Konatés have a sales shop in the roadside town of Boromo, and Yacouba Bondé has a sales shop right next to the main highway in Boni. Tourists regularly stop at both places to look at objects and to make purchases. I think they feel reassured that they are getting authentic things because they are buying them in rural towns instead of in the capital city.

In 2006 my wife Nora and I visited the village of Gorom-Gorom, north of Dori in the Sahel. There were two young Peace Corps volunteers there, a married couple, who had been given the task of organizing craftwork by local Fulani and Tuareg artists. They had done an excellent job of cataloguing the individual artists and their work, and they were providing expert advice to the artists on the export and sale of their work. They were extremely knowledgeable about the excellent artistic creativity of the people in the area. I think that this couple had a very positive impact on the art market in that part of Burkina Faso. Unfortunately the young couple suffered in the summer of 2006 when terrible rainstorms flooded the area and destroyed much of their home. I have no idea if that project has been continued. It would be wonderful if the Peace Corps saw the benefit to the economy of Burkina Faso and to the well-being of the artists, and continued to staff such helpful projects.

I have been pleasantly surprised over the years at the fine-quality objects current artists produce in Burkina Faso. These objects include everything from wooden masks to brass castings, printed and woven textiles, excellent leather work and outstanding pottery. On several occasions I have had the opportunity to purchase new masks, just carved, that had been commissioned by rural villagers but then never paid for. These are skillfully carved and essentially indistinguishable, except by age, from objects in important public and private collections. I remonstrate with the dealers who subject such fine objects to elaborate processes, especially smoking, to make them appear old. I try to explain that the objects are wonderful even if they are not old. They respond by telling me that tourists will never purchase even an excellent object if it does not look ancient. One of the better objects that Esther Dagan collected is an excellent Nouna mask representing a large beaked bird. It is by the same artist as, and virtually indistinguishable from, one that I purchased in the mid-1980s (fig. 8). This is an excellent example of the quality of objects being carved to this day by sculptors in rural towns. The object now in the ROM seems to have been lightly smoked, but it does not appear to have been spoiled by art dealers the way so many others have been.

The objects in the collection of Esther Dagan include both “authentic” pieces and “copies.” The stools are especially good (fig. 9), and the Mossi dolls are quite typical of the kinds of objects little children play with in villages. Many of these are dusty and broken because children play with them and then neglect them, leaving them outside in all kinds of weather. In the mid-1980s I purchased several brand new, beautifully carved Mossi dolls in the Ouagadougou market for twenty-five cents each. One fine example is currently on public display in the Smithsonian Institution. Some of the Lobi figures are authentic and old, if not terribly well carved. Most Lobi men feel qualified to carve figures, whether they are talented or not, and so there is a great range in expertise and quality. Several of the masks show clear evidence of having been used in rural villages in a “traditional” context. The Kurumba antelope crest (fig. 10) is among my favourites because it is very similar to several that were displayed at the Ouahigouya regional fair in 1971. The Kurumba artist brought several of these to the fair to display, and I was about to purchase some or all of them for the art centre when Toumani Triandé suddenly appeared and bought them all to take to the art museum in Ouagadougou to sell himself. I am convinced that it was from conversations with Triandé about this experience that William Fagg got his mistaken impressions of the creativity of Kurumba artists. Fagg wrote very condescending and dismissive comments about contemporary Kurumba sculpture that have unfortunately persisted to the present. The Kurumba mask in ROM is beautifully carved, and could easily have been used by a performer in Arabinda(fig. 11).

The Amrad Collection also includes several staffs from various peoples in Burkina. The staffs are all perfectly authentic, extremely old and excellent examples of the sorts of staffs that are used by diviners throughout central Burkina Faso. I own several such myself. On the other hand there are a significant number of masks that are completely typical of the sorts of tourist objects that are sold in the stalls near the Place d’Armes or in front of the Hotel Independence.

As Christopher Steiner has correctly pointed out in African Art in Transit, African art dealers are extremely adept at making new objects appear to be old. In Burkina Faso masks and other objects of wood are often stored in the rafters of kitchens where the soot from the cooking fires keeps them free of insect damage. Dealers try to reproduce the dark surface by “smoking” new masks. For many years collectors and tourists inspected the backs of masks to see if there were signs of sweat stains where the mask rested against the cheeks and forehead of the performer. It wasn’t long before African dealers began to bleach the wood with common household bleach to reproduce the effect of sweat stains. When dealers in Burkina Faso noticed that clients inspected the holes pierced around the edge of the mask to see if there were signs of wear that results when the fibre costumes are attached, the dealers begin to rub and abrade the wood to imitate the signs of years of use.

It is a mistake to make too many assumptions about the history of an object based on its appearance after it has left Africa. I had a remarkable experience in 1977 in the Mossi village of Seguenega. I was attending a funeral in a very conservative sukwaba community. Among the last masks to appear was a red, black and white mask with a black fibre costume and two broad horns. The mask was called katre, the hyena. It was a red, black and blue Guro zamble mask that had been repainted in the colours red black and white that are traditionally used by Mossi families. The mask had been purchased in one of the tourist art stalls in Abidjan, Côte d’Ivoire, by a young man of the family who was working in the bicycle factory there. He wrapped the tourist piece up in a burlap bag and carried it with him on the train back to Ouagadougou. He gave it to his father and grandfather, who repainted it and named it after their sacred protective spirit. The senior elders of the family were quite happy to have such an object because they thought that it was beautifully carved and would serve their purposes quite well. They were not at all concerned about where it had been carved or by whom. And so an object carved for the tourist market in Côte d’Ivoire became a “traditional” Mossi mask. I think that this example is particularly important, because it addresses the whole issue of authenticity. The piece was perfectly authentic at least as far as the senior Mossi elders who used it were concerned. Do we decide that an object is authentic if it has been used by a rural African community to represent their beliefs? A curator like me might look at such an object and wonder how a Guro mask came to be painted red, black and white, and dismiss it out of hand as some sort of a fake or tourist object. But that would be a terrible mistake. If the mask ever turns up in a Western collection I wonder what the collector or curator will make of it.

In 2010 I visited Ouri again as I have tried to do almost every year. I visited the Konatés and spent a couple of pleasant afternoons talking with them and with a good friend of mine who is a senior elder of the Winiama community. He had just had a brand new bush buffalo mask carved to replace an older one which was damaged and worn. He had given the old mask to a Konaté carver to take to Ouagadougou to sell. The new mask was very large and looked like it was old because it had been smoked (fig. 12). I had seen the mask perform and I was able to inspect the mask up close myself. I said to him “but this looks older than it really is, it has been smoked.” His response was “but Chris, I wanted it to look like the one in your book.” He clearly respected me as much as I respected him, and he could see from my book [DC2] what it is that I valued. He could see from the illustrations in my book that the older objects showed some signs of use and wear, including smoke. He lives right across the road from a major carving family, and understood very well that old objects often showed signs of storage in the rafters of women’s kitchens. And so he chose to emulate those important masks that he saw illustrated in my book.

I enjoy commissioning new masks from the carvers in the villages I know. My office at the University of Iowa is cluttered with masks that I’ve purchased directly from the artists over the years. The traditional pigments – which include a brick red made from ground hematite, a glossy black made from the boiled seed pods of the acacia tree, and a bright white that is made from the excrement dug from the burrows of small lizards (or sometimes from classroom chalk) – are all clear and bright. Of course it is very difficult for most tourists to do as I do and visit the workshops of these carvers in remote rural villages.

It is important to understand that all of the peoples of Burkina Faso repaint their masks each year before they are used for the first time. The masks that appear in performances in villages all are brightly painted in red, white and black, or in the case of the Bobo with a broader palette of colours. The only peoples I have ever known who allow active masks to become darkened with age or sooty and black with patina are the Winiama in central Burkina Faso. Many of the artists who carve these masks now paint them with bright enamel paints rather than the more traditional red and white mineral pigments, and with the sticky, glossy black created by boiling down acacia seed pods. It is true that many of the very old masks that are owned by senior elders and are stored in their bedrooms become darkened with age, but these masks rarely if ever appear in public performances. Unfortunately, these old masks are frequently the targets of thieves.

Without a doubt the major development in the art of Burkina Faso in the past thirty years has been the dramatic increase in the number of public mass performances that are organized either by the government or by local communities. In the 1970s masks only performed outside of the village for the occasional regional fairs that the government organized every year in different towns and cities around Burkina Faso. During the period from 1970 to 1972 these regional fairs were held in Ouahigouya, Po, Bobo-Dioulasso and Koudougou. I don’t recall having seen any masks in Ouahigouya, but I do distinctly remember seeing performances in the southern city of Po. While I was director of the art centre in Ouagadougou I was invited to a conference at the town hall where a group of expatriate French administrators talked about the needs that Burkina Faso (then Upper Volta) had for the tourist industry. One of the things they mentioned was a living history museum and the other was more regional fairs where the arts and crafts of the country could be displayed. This was in the very early stages of the organization of the film festival FESPACO. I think in the early years, FESPACO included some performances by masks that were invited to come in from rural villages. Because FESPACO was only organized every second year, people in Bobo-Dioulasso began to organize a different cultural festival called the annual week of culture, Semaine National de la Culture (SNC). This included large numbers of mask performances. In addition, the association for the preservation of masks, or ASAMA, in the town of Dédougou began to organize a mask festival, Festival des Masques (FESTIMA) that takes place every second year. Masks from all over the northern part of Burkina Faso attend and perform at FESTIMA, and masks from outside the country were also occasionally invited. When I attended this festival in 2006, there were masks from Switzerland, Côte d’Ivoire, Mali, and the country of Benin. They are similar public mask performances now in several towns across Burkina Faso. One of the best is in the central town of Pouni. There may be others in the northwest that I have not visited, but I certainly would enjoy doing that.

FESPACO is a major international cultural event. It is to be taken seriously. Large numbers of filmmakers from all over Africa, large numbers of tourists who are interested in cinema, and significant numbers of non-African filmmakers attend the event. There are many excellent theatres in Ouagadougou in which the films are shown. Ouagadougou has been a centre for African filmmaking for decades. Many of the most prominent filmmakers in Africa are from Burkina Faso (Gaston Kabore, Idrissa Ouedraogo, Annette Danto, Halie Gerima, Fanta Nacro, Pierre Yameogo). Prize-winning films by Africans are often shown in Ouagadougou, and films shown at FESPACO for the first time sometimes receive prizes outside of the Africa.

The film and craft festivals in Ouagadougou (FESPACO and SIAO), and the regional mask performance festivals in towns such as Dédougou (FESTIMA) have contributed enormously to an increase in the income from tourism in Burkina Faso in the past thirty to forty years. Very large numbers of Europeans and Americans attend FESPACO. Significant numbers of strangers as well as buyers for retailers attend SIAO. Quite a few intrepid travelers go to Dédougou every second year to attend the mask festival. Unfortunately, Dédougou is quite typical of most rural towns in Burkina Faso in that there is almost no infrastructure for tourism. The two hotels in town are rundown and certainly not very comfortable. There is one good restaurant in town that serves clean and tasty food. The road from Koudougou to Dédougou was bad clay washboard (tole) in 2006 but it has since been paved. I once dreamed of constructing an inexpensive earth brick (adobe) hotel in the village of Boni that could house tourists in clean and inexpensive surroundings, but I have never been able to raise the necessary funding. Once upon a time (the mid-1980s) there was an absolutely delightful hotel in the town of Markoye, in the far northern part of Burkina at the south edge of the Sahara, that was maintained by the French magazine Le Point. The hotel was provided for tourists who flew on Le Point charter flights from Paris. It was picturesque, tidy, clean, efficient and built inexpensively with local materials. I visited it in 1985 but I have not been back since. It would contribute enormously to the tourism income in Burkina Faso were some investor, government agency, or NGO to invest in a string of small, clean, attractive hotels in some of the cities and towns outside the capital and outside Bobo-Dioulasso. In conversations with current and former ministers of tourism I have been told that to construct such hotels would contribute in very important ways to the economic well-being of the entire country.[7] Perhaps Donald Trump or Sir Richard Branson would be interested in investing in a chain of hotels across rural Burkina Faso.

I have enjoyed working in Burkina Faso for well over forty years, in great part because so many people continue to make and use wonderful art. In spite of serious development, health and education deficits, this small country has not suffered many of the problems of neighbouring countries such as Mali and Niger, where the dramatic increase in the spread of Islam has led to a decline in the visual arts, or Ghana and Nigeria, where Christianity has had such a negative impact on “traditional” culture. Certainly there has never been any attempt to emulate Côte d’Ivoire or Guinea-Conakry and establish government-sponsored secular dance programs that bear no relation whatsoever to ancient African religion and art. Even in the most difficult period, from 1984 to 1987, Burkina Faso was, and still is, a country in which it is very easy to travel and to do research, relatively free of the violence, crime, bribery, kickbacks and corruption that plague other West African countries. The result is that Burkina Faso continues to be a wonderful place to visit and a very rich field for research in the visual arts.


[1] “Le Centre national d’artisanat d’art : point de mire de le filière artisat au Burkina,”, last modified October 14, 2004,
[2] “Editorial,” Village Artisanal de Ouagadougou, last modified 2009,
[3] “Report de la 14e édition du Salon,” Salon International de l’Artisanat de Ouagadougou, last modified 2014,
[4] Ibid.
[5] “Panafrican Film and Television Festival of Ouagadougou,”
[6] “The Art Gallery,” Arts and Craft of Africa, last modified 2010,
[7] MCT.GOV.BF. January 1, 2015. hhtp://


[DC1]I moved this note here from the previous paragraph, because this is where we introduce the Centre by name (and the article in the note is a history of the Centre).
[DC2]If the author has written only one book, fine; if there is more than one, we should add the title here if possible so that the reader knows which book is in question.