From September 23rd to October 25th, Afikaris proposes a dialogue between the zoomorphic characters of Ousmane Niang and the series “Théâtre Populaire”, of Burkinabe photographer Nyaba Ouedraogo, which, according to his own words, “aims at capturing the traces of the Burkinabe Revolution and the vision Thomas Sankara had of culture.”



“All the world’s a stage,
And all the men and women merely players.”
-  William Shakespeare, As You Like It, 1603

From the Greek word “théatron”, theater etymologically means a “place for viewing.” If theater is generally associated with performing arts, graphic arts can also be the stage for reflections about the world. The painter, sculptor or the photographer, start their work through a mute discourse, open to the interpretation of the careful eye looking at it. The exhibition “Théâtres Populaires, théâtres politiques” proposes a dialogue between the zoomorphic characters of Ousmane Niang and the series “Théâtre Populaire”, of Burkinabe photographer Nyaba Ouedraogo, which, according to his own words, “aims at capturing the traces of the Burkinabe Revolution and the vision Thomas Sankara had of culture.”

The title itself of this duo show suggests a certain duality. This double tempo appears through different approaches and initiatives, both inviting thought. Whilst one stages a societal issue in highlighting the existence of solutions, the other is a committed act. Both draw attention to an aspect of society. Both draw a solution. Both challenge the world. Popular theaters and political theaters are questions in the background of the two artists' work.

Whatever the era or the country that attracts his attention, Nyaba Ouedraogo documents African societies’ mutation in his pictures. If the experience he offers is immersive, resurrecting the Théâtre Populaire in his eponymous series “Théâtre Populaire” the message is above all political. He explains: “For me, taking pictures of this mythical place is a poetical act as well as a political one. There is no human society without culture and no culture without correspondence with a society.” Théâtre Populaire  Désiré Bonogo, that Nyaba Ouedraogo’s series immortalizes is part of the programme for change initiated by Thomas Sankara between 1983 and 1987. He aimed to improve the image of the country through culture, by presenting the arts and promoting the perfect conditions for the birth of a new culture.

From "Théâtre Populaire" series
100 x 100 cm
Digital printing on William Turner paper

If any theater play comes alive on stage, the series “Théâtre Populaire” also follows this rule. From the deserted building, Nyaba Ouedraogo only keeps the paintings adorning its walls. He describes: “The work here represents a peasant mask. In Burkina Faso, the mask is not an item to parade. It carries a spirit, an ancestor, a divine force. The man who wears it gives his identity to the mask and can communicate with it and with the spirits. Thus, the mask plays an essential role in the Burkinabe society.” Thus, Nyaba Ouedraogo takes the role of the stage director. Those who were at the origin only part of the decor, become the main characters, witnesses of their time and its ideals. Their role reminds the importance of traditions and culture in any society. As a stage of revendications, the popular theater of Nyaba Ouedraogo becomes a political theater. It translates the desire of the artist, according to journalist and art curator Fouzia Marouf, “to pay a tribute to the African memory and to shake up consciences in the world.” Nyaba Ouedraogo’s photographs recall the ghost of the past, on the steps of a lost ideal. If mobilizations and petitions try to rehabilitate the place, the painted masks remain the only witnesses of this time. 

150 X 150 cm
Acrylic on canvas

While Ousmane Niang aims to “provide solutions to the main issues the world currently has to face”, his approach to the arts promises to be engaged, making his canvases, at his turn, a political theater. Daily scenes of life played by animals which feature in his large canvases, project the tales of childhood. Like in the fables, from Ovide to Jean de la Fontaine, Ousmane Niang’s art exposes through its characters, a problem. A solution is ultimately offered, captivating our thought. Fascinated by the animal world since he was a child, he blurs the line between humans and beasts. He lends animals the behaviours he has observed. He frees himself from any rule, any convention. Often seen in his work, a bird embodies, for him, freedom. Thus, more than a simple stage costume which his characters remove, feathers represent their flaws and sins. Getting rid of these is a synonym of revival and how to be a better man. In Ousmane Niang’s painting, nothing is left to chance. Each detail holds significance. The dots covering his characters and decors are far from being trivial aesthetic elements. If in the neo-impressionist pointillism - from Georges Seurat to Paul Signac - the assemblage of dots give birth to the motif, or if in Aboriginal art, the dots are a way to hide the sacred symbols from the non-initiated ones. Ousmane Niang uses the pointillist technique to support his speech. Like in Gordon Bennett’s work, Ousmane Niang’s pointillism conveys his message. Whilst the Australian painter by using it refers to the Aboriginal culture to challenge racial stereotypes and national identity, Ousmane Niang uses it as a solution: a real cure to society’s pains. Thus, if here the dot is not from any tradition, it remains descriptive and metaphorical. Each dot represents, in Ousmane Niang’s work, a solution to an issue. He explains: “The dot allows me to represent the human mass, the words and the solutions to problems, because the point is the point of departure as well as the point of arrival.” Finally, if Ousmane Niang aims to propose answers through the pointillist technique, it is more an invitation to think about a solution rather than a ready-to-use one. He shows that a solution exists without revealing it. 

Thus, the public enters the space of Afikaris gallery as it would enter a performance hall: relishing the speech of the two artists whose messages complete and echo each other. As in a theatre, there is no universal reading. Everything depends on the sensibility of everyone. Ousmane Niang specifies: “Anyone can have his interpretation of my painting according to his vision. Because for me, art is a surprise and I like to surprise the spirit.”


For additional information and to get the complete catalogue of the exhibition, send us an email at michaela@afikaris.com.