Cleveland Celebrates a Month of Cultural Exchange with Artists from Burkina Faso

Since May 27, we’ve been hosting artists from Boni, Burkina Faso. The artists will headline the 21st annual Parade the Circle event on Saturday, June 12, and be featured in the Going Global Family Day to open our newest galleries on Sunday, June 27.

The visiting artists are members of La Troupe des Masques de Boni, which is led by Yacouba Bonde, master sculptor, mask maker, and artistic director of Boni, where he is also the region’s chief. Mr. Bonde works with the men, women, and elders of the region to choreograph grand masked performances that take place annually in the village’s dry season (from January to June). View a video of Boni village life.

Boni is a small village in the landlocked West African country that is surrounded by Mali, Niger, Benin, Togo, Ghana, and Côte d’Ivoire. Burkina Faso is a leader in African art and culture and hosts the largest craft market in Africa.

During the last decade, Mr. Bonde has led troupes of 14 to 22 musicians, dancers, and mask makers in performances throughout France, Belgium, Holland, and Switzerland.

The artists will be sharing their cultural gifts with us during their stay. In addition to performances for museum events, the group has also made presentations at Cleveland-area schools and community centers thanks to a grant from the Cleveland Foundation.

The following interview was conducted with the help of translator Mody Dicko, a student from Mali who is studying at Kent State University. Mali is a country north of Burkina Faso. Mody and the African artists communicate in Dioula, a native language of the region.

Q: Tell us about your village.
A: Boni is a village of about 5,000 people and is about 235 kilometers from the capital city, Ouagadougou. Boni is right next to the main road to reach the capital city (Route 1). Most of us are farmers. There are also many artists.

Q: Why is carving masks so important to your culture?
A: The masks are used in celebrations, and we want to keep the traditions of our ancestors alive.

Q: What materials are used to make the masks?
A: There are two types of masks: one made of wood and the other made of fiber. Some masks are also made from tree leaves.

Q: How long does it take to make a mask?
A: One mask can take about 45 days.

Q: Who participates in the celebrations in which these masks are used?
A: When the crops are over, everybody dances. When you are growing up, you learn the dances from the elders. It is a celebration of the entire community.

Q: What do you hope that the people of Cleveland learn from watching your dances?
A: We hope it makes the children happy and that people see something that is very important to who we are.

The museum will host another group from Burkina Faso on Saturday, June 19. Burkina Electric, the first electronica band from Burkina Faso, will be part of an evening of performances for this year’s Summer Solstice Party. View one of the band’s music videos online.

Learn more about this year’s Parade and the artists from Burkina Faso on our web site.

-- Kesha Williams

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