Written by Katrina Manson and James Knight
Every even-numbered year in late October, Burkina hosts a continent-wide artisanal extravaganza. Batik, paintings, handmade drums, bronzes, baskets, sculpture, furniture, textiles, shoes, pottery, jewellery, ceramics, leatherwork and clothing from all four corners of Africa are on show.
The first Salon International de l’Artisanat de Ouagadougou (SIAO) took shape in 1988, developing an earlier idea, Handicraft ’84, which saw Burkina’s craftsmen from diff erent spheres coming together to compete. These days, SIAO opens its doors to more than 300 exhibitors from dozens of nations, housed in a specially constructed building next to the Village Artisanal, selling in a hassle-free environment and attracting a quarter of a million international buyers and visitors.
The informal sale of arts and crafts is a huge money-making sector for Burkina. More than half a million Burkinabe are artisans, generating 25% of GDP, second only to agriculture. It’s hard to turn this into an export success, however. That’s why the market is accompanied by eight days of discussion and addresses from the president and other dignitaries. Recent talking points include encouraging exports, stemming the drop in prices, the role of e-commerce, and advice from craftsmen, trainers and specialists on maintaining standards. Perhaps a victim of its own success, local artisans complain the price of a stall at SIAO has become prohibitively high, favouring other better-established African markets rather than Burkina’s own fledgling industry.
Despite the discussion of the bottom line, there is plenty for the casual viewer – rather than the bulk buyer – eager to fi nd a unique piece that calls out to be bought. Showrooms open at 09.30 to professionals, and at 12.30 for the public; tickets cost 1,000f to enter all areas, or 500f excluding airconditioned pavilions.