Photos by Jean-Claude Moschetti
Costumes and mask have come to be emblematic of popular culture and mass consumption. It’s true in the West, and certainly so in North America. Panic typically strikes when a friend hosts the occasional costume party, or annually when halloween looms around the corner. What shall I wear? The question pervading many a conversation.
In central Burkina Faso, the masquerade however remains more deeply tethered to daily rural life. For instance when young suitors gather to find partners, or the annual animist rites to celebrate the harvest, the passage from childhood to adulthood, and the final passage into the afterlife.
These rituals presided by masqueraders champion creativity and showcase human ingenuity. Though the question what shall I wear is governed by traditional iconography, the challenge to be expressive and more creative than the pack still applies even for the Bwa. It is not uncommon for families to compete, commissioning masks to see who can create the most innovative and spectacular performances.
The fibre costumes and sacred masks go beyond the theatrical; they are grounded in symbolism from the choice of patterns that allude to moral and ethical codes, and to the path of ancestors.
The wooden or leaf animal and planks masks (nwantantay) of the Bwa are informed by a long historical and visual tradition. The people, indigenous to central Burkina Faso and Mali, use shapes that embody supernatural forces of animals like the serpent, hawk, butterfly and bush buffalo, each venerated in a Bwa worldview.
The Bwa masqueraders are part of an ongoing project by photographer, Jean-Claude Moschetti. Informed by the animist worldview held by numerous indigenous societies in western Africa, Moschetti explores the visual and spiritual aspects of masquerade. This series, Volta Noire, shot in Burkina Faso is part of a larger body of work entitled Magic on earth.
Read Another Africa’s recent interview with photographer Jean-Claude Moschetti.