The University of Iowa University of Iowa

The Art of Burkina Faso

by Christopher D. Roy (1947-2019)
University of Iowa

Central Voltaic Style:

The Central Voltaic Style includes the southwestern Mossi, the gurunsi (Nunuma, Nuna, Winiama, Léla), the southern Bwa, and the Dafing. Masks produced by Central Voltaic peoples share a long, heavy fiber costume that hides the performer from head to toes. All bear red, white and black geometric patterns. All share stylized representations of wild and domestic animals, including antelope, buffalo, roosters, and sometimes of humans. Many masks bear planks, and most are worn over the face.

Southwest Mossi/Léla

Southwestern Mossi masks are most similar to the red, white, and black animal masks of the Léla. In contrast to the masks of other peoples in the region, southwestern Mossi and Léla masks are worn over the forehead, and not over the face. They are never surmounted by a plank. The woman's crested hairstyle, gyonfo, appears on human masks among the Mossi and Léla but not among other peoples. The major distinguishing characteristic is the absence among the Mossi of the series of concentric circles around the eyes, a common motif among the gurunsi.

Nuna, Nunuma, Winiama/ Southern Bwa

The Nuna and Nunuma, whose styles are difficult to distinguish, as well as the Winiama, are most similar to the southern Bwa. The masks of all of these peoples are worn in front of the face, and all share the Voltaic target motif. Many masks from these peoples are surmounted by a broad plank. The Bwa themselves state clearly that they have acquired wooden masks from their neighbors the gurunsi.

The major distinguishing characteristics are the vertical ridge, colored red, that appears only on Nunuma masks. Lines that radiate from the eyes appear only on gurunsi masks. On gurunsi masks a figure may connect the plank to the head of the mask: this figure does not appear on Bwa masks. Geometric patterns are complex on gurunsi masks, and comparatively simple and broad on Bwa masks.

gurunsi, Bwa/ Dafing

The Dafing immigrated into the northern valley of the Black Volta, bringing Mandé styles with them. Influenced by their neighbors, the Bwa and gurunsi, they have applied red, white and black Voltaic patterns, including the Voltaic target, to their masks. Mandé characteristics they imported include a prominent horizontal brow over a slab-shaped nose, and flattened cheeks, with large, protruding ears.