STREET ART from Burkina Faso at Acme Studios in The Hague

Maquis Tous Ouaga by Babs (Mahamoudou Zinkoné), 2015 (60cm x 40cm)

Calling this exhibition Street Art is maybe a bit misleading. This is not an exhibition of graffiti or Banksy type wall art but pictures depicting life on the streets of this African country.

The show is straight-up, honest social realism, sympathetically created by a school of artists from Ouagadougou, the capital of Burkina Faso. The group was established by Mohammadou Zinkoné, professionally known as Babs, who began by simply making pictures for the tourist trade from his  roadside studio Dessin d’Art chez Babs.

All the works by the artists in the exhibition joyously depict the brouhaha of daily life in the markets and streets of said city, from eating, trading, drinking, washing clothes and transporting live animals hanging from bus windows, not to mention motorbikes on the roof of overfilled buses struggling uphill. A woman with what looks like a load of firewood or fencing poles on her head has slung her infant onto her back, saying Le Bébé, the equivalent of our Baby on Board sign displayed in the back window of cars.

The buzz and frenzy of all human activity is here and one can stand in front of each work and enjoy the glorious details of mountains of vegetables, fruit and the famous ‘cure all’ beer on offer. I saw parallels with Brueghel’s depiction of Dutch people, of Lowry’s workers hurrying to work in the ‘satanic mills’ of the cold industrial north west of England. But the style of these African paintings has more than a passing resemblance to Tintin comics or les bandes dessinée so ubiquitous in France. This is not altogether surprising as Burkina Faso is heavily influenced by all things French. I was surprised to see so many shop signs and messages in French which has remained the official language, even though only 15% actually speak it.

The four artists on show are – Babs, the initiator of this style of work, as well his pupils/followers Madson, Bisso and Isbil. It would be interesting to see how their work develops in the next decade. Perhaps, as is the case in the US and the UK, more and more black artists such as Lubaina Himid (the Turner Prize winner in 2017 with her colorful, almost Shakespearean figures) now explore their African heritage in a less cartoonish manner, evolving away from straight depiction with more political/historical agendas. Astrid Burchardt   9th December 2023