The Art of Burkina Faso

by Christopher D. Roy
University of Iowa

The Bwa:

In contrast to the gurunsi, who use red, white, and black geometric patterns in complex and fairly busy compositions, the Bwa tend to combine fewer forms in simpler compositions that do not break up the sculptural surfaces. The most frequently used patterns are the cross, checkerboard, and target, combined in large, broad spaces.

It is very difficult to distinguish many Bwa masks from the masks of the Nunuma west of the Black Volta, and from some Winiama masks. This is because the Nunuma and Winiama are the source of Bwa wood mask traditions, and because many objects continue to be produced in "Centers of Style" where a large workshop may carve masks and figures for surrounding communities and several peoples. It may be a mistake to attempt to distinguish between styles that have such a common origin. Nevertheless, many Nunuma masks bear a vertical ridge, colored red, between the eyes. This ridge does not appear on Bwa masks. In addition, many northern Nunuma and southern Nuna masks bear series' of parallel lines that radiate from the target-shaped eye like the spokes of a wheel. These do not appear on Bwa masks.

Plank masks are common among the Nuna, and are often quite complex in outline. The overall rectangular plan of the plank is broken by figures that connect plank and head or surmount the plank, or by series' of downward-curving hooks on the front and back. The plank may be decorated with the same triangles and rectangles forming checkerboards that appear on Bwa masks, but the patterns are smaller and the painted compositions much more complex than the simple broad patterns of Bwa masks. Many Nuna planks are supported by a large female figure that appears to balance the plank on her head. Such is never the case among the Bwa.