Visual arts in the public space Cultural identity or mere decoration?

In the public space of the city of Ouagadougou are located several monuments. These works of visual and architectural arts, for the vast majority of people, are requests of the government or private companies. We also notice some initiatives of some artists, notably, graffiti. Are these works related to a story or are they just for the beautification of the city?

The concept of visual arts in the public space began a long time ago; the presence of different monuments in Egypt or ancient Greece is proof of this. This situation has not changed over time. In Burkina Faso, the visual arts have largely found their place in the public and architectural spaces. Thus, several works acquired by the Burkinabe state or private investors find their roles in cities.
This concept went through a period of grace during the August 1983 Revolution, notably with the construction of several monuments. Examples of these are the Square or the Monument of African Filmmakers; The Battle of the Rails "Kon-menem Moogho, the Square "Naaba Koom" or the Monument of Hospitality and Welcome, the Yennenga Princess Square, etc.

These works made up of various materials: bronze, concrete, iron, etc. convey messages, the most recurrent being solidarity, forgiveness, hospitality, friendship, politics or events. The monuments are also raised to honour the memory of illustrious personalities of the country’s past and recent history. Primarily, all these monuments address the question of identity. They are also the expression of creativity, even if they are often produced on command.

Prosper Tiendrebéogo, director of the department of Fine and Applied Arts in Burkina Faso (DAPA)(1)  explained that ‘Art in public space is both a question of identity and especially an artistic expression, as well as for decoration. But here in Burkina, the works seem to be more a quest for identity, for affirmation.’ There is therefore an artistic expression in these works. Some are decorative and give a beauty, an emblem to the city. As such, Ouagadougou is recognized by the Monument of African Filmmakers or Naaba Koom.

Graffiti, often a favorite practice of the younger generation, are works of protest, which are not always meant to please and sometimes even scare the older generation. Here, the artist is an avant-gardist and he sets the tone with the chisel or the brush. The advent of the popular uprising in October 2014 (2)  resulted in a flourishing of these kinds of works in Ouagadougou.We must therefore say that in addition to being simply for embellishment or cultural identity, visual art in public space can also be a tool for protest.

Brief presentation and the history of some works in public spaces in Ouagadougou

A- Le Panthéon des martyrs

Constructed in Ouaga 2000 at the end of the Muammar Gaddafi Boulevard, this monument was raised to honour the memory of Burkinabes who had been particularly illustrious in the service of their motherland. Originally called Memorial to National Heroes, it was renamed on May 30, 2015 during the ceremony in which homage was paid to the victims of the popular uprising in Burkina in memory of those who died.

B- The Square or the Monument of AfricanFilmmakers
‘A dynamic shape, a rocket ready to fly to victory’, is the description given to this monument by the artist who designed it. Next to the central Town Hall of Ouagadougou, this monument, which was built in 1987 symbolizes the importance of the works of filmmakers. It was erected in their honour.

C- The Square “Naaba Koom” or the Monument of Hospitality and Welcome
Situated opposite the train station, it is a six-metre high domineering monument representing a woman carrying water to welcome foreigners arriving in Ouagadougou by train. This monument was erected in honour of Naaba Koom, one of the kings of Mossés (3), whose name it bears and under whose reign the railroad, built from Côte d'Ivoire, gets to Ouagadougou. It was in 1986 that this monument, named ‘Welcome Monument’, was erected.



1) Direction des arts plastiques et appliqués (DAPA) (= Directorate of Visual and Applied Arts) of the Ministry of Culture and Tourism of Burkina Faso. New management was born in 2012 from the split of a general direction, namely that of the performing arts, visual and applied arts. It contributes to the emergence of the visual arts sector by the implementation of a national policy on visual and applied arts. The authorities in charge of culture want to focus on some aspects of this sector. Management is considering a favouring of artistic creation, support for the structuring of this sector and the professionalization of its actors. Moreover, its goal is the promotion of the consumption of works of arts in and out of Burkina Faso.

2)  The popular uprising of 30th and  31th October 2014 against the former burkinabe President, Blaise Compaoré, which lead to his fleeing.

3)From the 11th until the 12th century, the first kingdoms of Mossis were built. The kingdom of Ouagadougou was the most influential and  its leader was the Mogho Naba, descendant of princesse Yennenga, mother of the mossi people. In French, it is called “Mossi”, while in the moré (mooré)- language you say “Moossé” (“moose” ; plural of “moaga”).