The Art of Burkina Faso

by Christopher D. Roy
University of Iowa

Northern Voltaic Style:

Most of the masks from this style area represent totemic animals and are worn over the face. Many bear a vertical plank. They include geometric patterns in red, white, and black, but do not have concentric target eyes. The northern Mossi, Dogon, and Kurumba comprise this style region.


In the Yatenga style area, Mossi masks are vertically oriented, with concave, oval facial areas bisected by a vertical ridge. These masks are strikingly similar to animal masks used by the modern Dogon, some of whom live in northern Yatenga. Both styles are characterized by the use of red, white, and black geometric patterns on both animal masks and on vertical plank masks. The karansé masks used by the Mossi in Yatenga most resemble the Dogon type called sirigi, but there are remarkable similarities between other types as well, especially the masks surmounted by female figures, called satimbé by the Dogon and karan-wemba by the Mossi. Mask costumes are very similar, and both peoples use a bar of wood that the performer clamps between his teeth to secure the mask. The most striking style difference between the Mossi and the Dogon is the rectangular face of Dogon masks and the oval or round face of Mossi masks. In terms of use and meaning of masks there are numerous similarities. Both Dogon and Mossi masks are essentially totemic, representing spirits that play roles in the founding of clans. They are used similarly in burials and funerals, and in infrequent but regular general ancestral sacrifices. Again, there are differences in use and meaning, but these are often less important than differences that occur between villages inhabited by the same group.


Kaya style masks, in the northeast, are very similar to the plank masks produced by the southern Kurumba. Both peoples produce convex-faced masks with elaborate, branching planks that rise above the face. Both peoples decorate their masks with rather rough, geometric shapes painted white. While it is true that the ancestors of the Mossi who use masks in this small area were Kurumba, it is patently false to conclude that Mossi art is or was made by the Kurumba.

The Risiam style is a result of the combined influence of the Dogon and the Kurumba, whose villages were mixed in the area.