To speak of maturity would be presumptuous. Evoking a promising adolescence would undoubtedly be more accurate. For its third edition, the Ouagadougou International Sculpture Biennale (BISO), whose opening took place on October 4 and which runs until November 8, asserts itself as an important moment in contemporary art on the continent , bringing together nineteen selected artists from twelve countries (Tunisia, Senegal, Ivory Coast, Burkina Faso, Mali, Togo, Benin, Nigeria, Kenya, DRC, Cameroon, without forgetting Martinique) for around a hundred applications received.

This year, as for the previous editions of 2019 and 2021, a theme has been chosen. The second novel by Congolese Emmanuel Dongala, The Fire of Origins, served as a framework for the artists. At the heart of this saga, Mandala Mankunku, blacksmith, sculptor, hunter, witch doctor and healer, surpasses his masters and rebels against an ancient world. A creative genius, eager for knowledge and emancipation, he ardently resists colonial power through his art, the white men who sweep across the continent, subjugating and killing.

“We chose this work because it seems to us that, in a different context, artists today, like everyone else, are confronted with the harshness and violence of a globalized world in which it is difficult to trace their road. We invite creators to draw on their origins and individual trajectories to imagine works forged in their own identities,” underlines Christophe Person, gallery owner and co-founder of BISO with photographer Nyaba Ouédraogo.

The sculpture also represents an original, unifying and regenerating fire of art in Africa. As well as a tribute to Burkinabé blacksmiths and the country’s metallurgical tradition. In order to create a spirit of cohesion among the artists, the selection of projects was made in particular according to their ability to integrate into the Ouagalais context. Because one of the particularities of BISO lies in its creative residencies. For a maximum of one month, those selected were able to work in close collaboration with local artisans, specialized in bronze, wood or textiles to bring their works to life.

For this third edition, the choice of location was very symbolic: the amphitheater of the Pan-African Cinema and Television Festival of Ouagadougou (Fespaco). A more accessible place than the French Institute of the first two biennials – currently under renovation after the ransacking on October 1, 2022, by demonstrators in favor of the putsch led the day before by Captain Ibrahim Traoré. “But I was warned that this place is inhabited by geniuses,” explains Nyaba Ouédraogo. There were fires, aborted projects… So we made animal sacrifices to respect traditions and offer something to our ancestors. »

In order to liven up the amphitheater and highlight the works, the organizers called on scenographer Amandine Tochon, who has already worked several times for Dak’Art, the Dakar Biennale. His challenge was to imagine the organization of the space while the creators were producing. “Two weeks to have a vision of the finished works, together in one place. By talking with the artists, I was able to establish a plan and no one pre-empted a place. They were very accommodating with what I proposed. Work in good intelligence,” she says.

“Artist residencies, the DNA of BISO”

Five people made up the jury, under the presidency of the Cameroonian artist Barthélémy Toguo, who has accompanied the BISO adventure since the beginning. Among them, Illa Donwahi, co-founder and president of the private Ivorian foundation that bears her name, specializing in the promotion of contemporary art: “Artist residencies represent the DNA of this unique event, the only biennial of contemporary sculpture in Africa, which allowed access to a very interesting level of creation. Thanks to the diversity of the jury [designer, writer, artist, gallery owner and research historian] led by Barthélémy Toguo who speaks little but loudly, we learned from each other. »

The deliberations were difficult. The maturity and diversity of the work as well as the mobilization of the artists surprised the jury. One work, however, was unanimous, winning the BISO 2023 Grand Prix: that of Sadikou Oukpedjo. “Aguellè or Les Echassiers represents singular beings who seek to contemplate the past to better understand the present and thus prepare for the future,” explains the artist. With their elegant and imposing gait, they seem to cross the ages in search of answers, of buried truths. I wanted to create in this work an atmosphere imbued with poetry and silence, inviting the viewer to question the destiny of human beings. »

Trained for four years by the great Togolese sculptor, painter, architect and writer Paul Ahyi (1930-2010), whose works are known on the African continent and around the world, Sadikou Oukpedjo was born in 1970 in Kétao, in the north from the country. Today, he lives in Abidjan and his work is driven by a constant questioning of our humanity.

For him, tales, cosmogony, rites and witchcraft are all attempts and tools created to find one’s place in the world and to learn to know oneself. The invisible and its power, the unknown and the hidden represent a common thread, part of the exploration of human consciousness as the same quest which runs through the evolution of his plastic research.

“An energy that floated in the air”

Another work, that of Rachel Marsil, entitled By my eyes I touched the sun and composed of raffia embroidery and pieces combining bronze and wood, won an award. Between totems and displays, fruits pile up and balance, mingle and respond to each other in front of embroidered mats suspended in the background, one of which suggests a sun filtering through the surrounding vegetation.

“This installation talks about the relationship with family, with others and with origins. She evokes my first return to the continent, the discovery of merchants who stack fruits like sculptures to attract customers,” underlines this young woman who grew up in the Paris region and has Senegalese origins. Graduating from the National School of Decorative Arts in Paris in 2021, she discovered old family photos which will allow her to construct an imagination questioning the notion of connection, with its gaps and shortcomings.

Finally, five off-site locations were chosen to accompany the official event. For Nyaba Ouédraogo, “these spaces make it possible to offer complementary programming of contemporary Burkinabé creation: sculpture of course, but also painting and photography. They contributed to the enthusiasm of the BISO, with this energy that floated in the air.