Voices from Ougadougou

Public space as a colourful hub: “Place de la Femme” in Burkina Faso

written by Pia Stengl

For one weekend in February, a dusty square in Gounghin, Ougadougous’s artist quarter, transforms into a sparkling, colourful hub for residents, artists, traders and travellers. The Place de la Femme – the women’s square – is a majestic name for this sandy pitch with its few eucalyptus trees and lonely bars. First impressions are disappointing. But the street art festival “Rendez vous chez nous” that takes place in various cities of Burkina Faso and Mali every year makes the square change in an impressive way.

The Place de la Femme on any normal day. Copyright by Pia Stengl

 

A delegation of “Les Plastiquers”, a French scene painter collective, came all the way from France to design the square. The four artists put up colourful cloths between the trees with the help of their many assistants, they hang glowing watering pots in the treetops and install gigantic playing cards that watch calmly over the tumultuous activities of the square. Right in the centre of the Place de la Femme, there is a huge tree made out of woven construction steel, which was constructed after some difficulties specific to Burkina Faso (electricity cuts and lacking voltage of the welding device). A similarly crafted bar for all festival visitors stands right next to this majestic tree.

The Place de la Femme becomes much more colourful during the art festival. Copyright by Pia Stengl

 

The shows that are part of the festival take place in several squares in and around the capital Ougadougou, but the Place de la Femme is undoubtedly the beating heart of the festival. Starting in the early afternoon, there is a buzz of acrobats, larger-than-life puppets on a string, drummers, dancers and actors from all over the world to showcase their art for free. Countless women offer tasty meat skewers fresh from their grills, jewellery traders position the pearl earrings they sell and in the shadow of the trees, the first beers are being popped open. Flocks of children are hypnotised by the show, whereas others run screaming through the masses. Teenagers chill out with their bikes and the artists of Burkina Faso weave their network while devouring punch.

Some local art being sold during the festival. Copyright by Pia Stengl

 

There is a lively togetherness between artists, volunteers and visitors. Everyone is welcome to help, to enjoy and to share. The festival connects people from all kinds of different countries and milieus. 15-year old Kevin for example wants to become an actor and was an avid supporter of the “Plastiquers”. They let him help with the welding of the tree, which Kevin enjoyed a lot. The festival thus creates bridges between people, who are usually not in touch with the performing arts, and street art. At the same time, they get to be active members of the festival and experience a feeling of appreciation and inspiration here.

The festival in full swing, inviting everyone to take part and enjoy. Copyright by Pia Stengl

 

Burkina Faso’s Artists Collective ACMUR (Association Arts, Clowns, Marionettes et Musique dans nos Rues) has been organising “Rendez vous chez nous” for nine years and has made the festival an inherent part of public space and life in the country. Companies from Africa, Europe and the United States join the whirlwind of activities every year and fascinate up to 220,000 spectators (2017). The shows take place almost exclusively in streets, schools or markets to make the performing arts tangible for everyone who is watching. It is one of the Collective’s goals to bring life to residents’ public spaces and to thereby enrich their common imaginative world as well as to strengthen their social cohesion. This vision immediately springs to life during the festival weekend at Place de la Femme.

 

Thank you for your article, Pia! Watch this video to see more of the festival:

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