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African art, Gan bronzes, Burkina Faso

As African art is currently better known, Gan bronzes from Burkina Faso are slightly less famed. Thought, these objects have a still unspoiled suggestive strength.

They name themselves Kan but in European languages we find many different ways to write andd pronounce it. They currently live in south-west of Burkina Faso, in Gaoua area, close to Ivory coast. Their sculptures are outstanding.

In 1990 it have been estimated that only 6.000 persons were speeking the kaansa language.

African art, Gan bronzes, Burkina Faso

 We think Gan people arrived from (today) Ghana during XV° century of current era.

A short but interesting paper was published by the French newspaper Le Monde in 2005. In 2010, Geneva museum Barbier-Mueller proposed an exhibition dedicated to Gan bronzes. Although being myself a nassara (white man) born in Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso, it was the first time I discovered this people and their bronzes.

African art, Gan bronzes, Burkina Faso and its meaning

As everywhere in the world, traditional power relies on religion and symbols. Well, modern power still largely relies on this base. Classically, African art, Gan bronzes, Burkina Faso legitimate the power through a system of traditional and public worship, dedicated to a supernatural entities pantheon, notably associated to the spirits of princely place dead.

These bronzes also have a “objects of memory” meaning by establishing a relationship between past and present. Gan bronzes are material clues of choice to rebuild history and symbolic system of this kingdom regarding oral tradition.

As it is valid in every belief system, theses bronzes have a mediatory function between humans and the invisible world : spirits, ancestors (preferably of princely place), spirituals protectors of the kingdom.

African art, Gan bronzes, Burkina Faso
African art, Gan bronzes, Burkina Faso
African art, Gan bronzes, Burkina Faso

According to Quai Branly museum in Paris, first images showing African art, Gan bronzes, Burkina Faso, date from 1920 and the book of Henry Labouret. But it a European point of view, which is amusing, as if these bronzes had no existence until they have been discovered by Europeans.

The repertory of the bronzes gather unequivocal, clear, often wildlife symbols from ancient entities. But also complex figurations shaped from diverse significant elements which association aims to express the composite nature of the cults that in the course of time were introduced in the hierarchical religious system of the little burkinabè kingdom.

African art, Gan bronzes, Burkina Faso
African art, Gan bronzes, Burkina Faso

The snake representation is the main theme of African art, Gan bronzes, Burkina Faso. Snake is associated to the founding myth of Torfan. Torfan is a mythic animal represented as a snake and whose strength and power are symbolized using metal. Owning a Torfan gives the power to fight evil.

We also find African art, Gan bronzes, Burkina Faso that have a disproportionate head and bulging eyes. This treatment of eyes, a distinctive feature of Gan style, give them a divinatory power : the strength and the power of gaze help to guess the multiple dangers to come and allow to guard against them.

African art, Gan bronzes, Burkina Faso
African art, Gan bronzes, Burkina Faso

These objects were created for specific needs, specifically to protect man from numerous assault and dangers, against which there is no other recourse than to practice some magics and spiritual rituals. In such, bronze objects have a major role.

Most of these objects were (and still are) protected away from praying eyes. That’s why Gan people preserved them in secret places or inside sanctuary guarded by priest. Frequently, court object were protected this way, they only appeared during major events. Only higher office persons could approached them.

The strength of expression of these objects can be found in the harmony and rigor of a completed shape to the highest point. African art, Gan bronzes, Burkina Faso are distinctive by an expression of detail, style, and fine trait.

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