Jean-Claude Moschetti | The Vibrant Otherworldly Masqueraders of Burkina Faso

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.

© Jean-Claude Moschetti. Magic on earth, Volta Noire, Ouri 04. Courtesy of the artist.


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.



Jean-Claude Moschetti (b. 1967, Antibes, France) lives and works in Bain-de-Bretagne, France, and Porto-Novo, Benin. Following his studies at the Institut National Supérieur des Arts du Spectacle et des Techniques de Diffusion (INSAS) in Brussels, Moschetti started working in the film industry as a camera operator and, since 1995, has worked as an independent press photographer. His photographs are regularly featured in French and international press. Moschetti has travelled extensively in western Africa, engaged in reportages on subjects such as the African oil industry and the battle against imitation drugs. Moschetti upholds that the principle motivation behind his photographic practice is to reveal the mysteries of the occult that exist within the quotidian. Through mirroring, duplication and montage, his series Egunguns (referring to the secret Beninese voodoo society that honours ancestral spirits) depict scenes of hybridised, illogical landscapes centred by animal-headed creatures poised in ritualised dance.



Written by Missla Libsekal.


Burkina Faso | Doing our part to combat immappancy


All images courtesy of the artist. All rights reserved.



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