In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Burkina Art and Performance

  • Introduction
  • Sources since the 1990s on Art and Society in Burkina Faso
  • Catalogues and Collections
  • Film and Video
  • Websites

Art History Burkina Art and Performance
Christopher D. Roy
  • LAST REVIEWED: 27 June 2017
  • LAST MODIFIED: 27 June 2017
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199920105-0113


The art of the many peoples of Burkina Faso is quite exceptional in West Africa: relatively few Burkinabes have converted to Islam or Christianity, and the impact of tourism has done relatively little to alter the importance of art to the lives of the people who use it. It is still quite possible for visitors to rural communities to attend events such as funerals or initiations at which masks appear, to witness early-21st-century political events at which figures are used by chiefs, and to watch pottery being made and fired, or the weaving of cotton textiles. This is not to say that nothing has changed in Burkina since the early 20th century, or that Islam and Christianity have not had an impact. However, the artistic culture of the country remains rich, especially in contrast to countries where Christianity and Islam have completely altered earlier culture. Art in Burkina Faso includes the things people make to express their most fundamental ideas about themselves and the world in which they live, especially the spirit world. “Performance” encompasses the way these objects are handled or worn in rural villages or in modern political contexts. The art described in this article is “contemporary” art; that is, art that is still being used by people in many villages all across the country. In art scholarship, the word “contemporary” has been appropriated to describe only the work of artists who have been academically trained and who sell their work in galleries or show it in museums. However, this implies that the art in rural villages has either disappeared or is no longer relevant. This is far from the truth. Much of the art of Burkina Faso takes the form of masks, often used in performances. Many of the sources included here describe the performances as well as the objects. The word “mask” includes not only the carved wooden portion, but also the fiber or leaf costume, the performance, and the music. I do not include here the performances of theatrical groups, nor do I include descriptions of such dance groups as the warba dancers, who are rarely mentioned in the literature.

Colonial-Period Scholars

Colonial-period scholarship on Burkina art and performance includes French colonial officers and researchers before independence in 1960. The earliest colonial anthropologists were interested in documenting the peoples of Burkina Faso in an effort to support the colonial French government. These early reports are clear, thorough, and informative. Louis Tauxier’s books about Burkina Faso remain in the early 21st century some of the most important sources on what the peoples of Burkina Faso were like in the early 20th century. None of these studies are focused exclusively on art. They are all much-broader descriptions of a group of people, in which a single chapter may be devoted to art, or, in some cases, art is mentioned only in passing. Nevertheless, they illuminate the cultural riches of Burkina. While only publications by A. A. Dim Delobsom are listed here, materials by Eloi Kafando and other scholars who were born in what was then Upper Volta can be found in libraries and government archives.

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