Laongo: Where African sculptors etch memories, art on granite

Sculpted image of Thomas Sankara
Sculpted image of Thomas Sankara

Any tourist who visits Ouagadogou and fails to stop over at the Laongo Sculpture Symposium (Sculptures Sur Granite De Laongo) just a few kilometres from the capital of Burkina Faso, has certainly missed a crucial part of the tourist attractions, the West African nation boasts of.

Laongo is a haven for African sculptors.

There, they carve their artistic thoughts and impressions on natural material- granite.

Over 2000 sculpted works assail the visitor right from the entrance of the expansive grounds to its woody extension which is also a stone throw away.

The beautifully crafted works etched in stone overwhelm the senses, ranging from the spiritual, political, traditional roots, family life, history, culture and mundane art.

The tourist or art enthusiast is immediately enthralled moving from one imposing stonework to the other as each beckon with a unique message.

Haven

The granite sculptures were crafted by various African artists at this site popularly known as Laongo Sculpture Symposium, also referred to as an open-air museum.

The site was founded in 1989 by Burkinabe sculptor, Siriki Ky.

The ‘granite park’ covers roughly 100 hectares (247 acres) and hosts an annual gathering of artists, who usually leave their artistic impressions on the numerous grey-pink rocky slabs.

The spot is located 35 km from Ouagadougou, in the province of Oubritenga. Sculptors across the continent and beyond are permitted to create their unique works in-situ using granite from the site.

Some of the works combine local granite and other materials such as metal.

Records show that the first biennial artistic symposium opened January 13, 1989, gathering 18 sculptors from 13 countries.

The tenth edition took place in May 2012.

Carved faces of prominent African personalities, animals, cultural groups and icons fill the wooded area, interspersed by delicate vegetation.

The site has been popularly described by tourists as a ”picturesque place of large blocks of granite skilfully exploited by artists from all over Africa to express their know-how. It is also a good hiking route”.

‘International symposium of Laongo’

The site director, Nacoulma Theophile, said the International Symposium of Laongo, which hosts artists takes place every two years and is well attended.

”Laongo is now international in nature, that is all the artists that visit are from all parts of the world,” he tells PREMIUM TIMES. ”But it has not been well exploited by some African countries. Nonetheless, today we have 2038 different works from different artists spread across the site. This does not include those that can be found at our extension which is just 500 metres away. The extension is about 39 acres and also has various works by various artists on its grounds.”

Sankara ‘lives on’

Perhaps, one granite work, that attracts tourists to the site on a daily basis is that of renowned ‘Pan-Africanist’, Thomas Sankara, who was installed as the president of Upper Volta (now Burkina Faso) in 1983 after a military coup.

He held that position until October 15, 1987, when he was killed in a coup led by a colleague, Blaise Campaore and two others.

On the first anniversary of the coup that had brought him in, he changed the nation’s name from Upper Volta to Burkina Faso, which means “land of upright people”.

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