PHILADELPHIA — A new interactive exhibit, created by an architect from rural Burkina Faso, is on display at the Philadelphia Museum of Art (PMA). The artist, Francis Kéré, grew up in the rural West African village of Gando, where poverty levels can be around 40 percent. Kéré’s installation is called Building for Community, which displays his inventive approach to architecture, using natural materials and local labor.
In a PMA exhibition overview, Kéré explained the importance of local participation in his work. Kéré stated that when other people are involved in the process they take ownership and care for it; that is the only way “people will know how to evaluate its success.
“Celebration is so important in my culture,” Kéré continued. His projects often become a “big event” where people come to celebrate by working. Both hard work and education are held in extremely high regard in Burkinabe culture. Through his education, Kéré was able to rise out of poverty and give back to others living in rural Burkina Faso.
Growing up in Gando, Kéré traveled nearly 40 kilometers (25 miles) to the neighboring village in order to attend school. Public education in Burkina Faso is not free and many rural families cannot afford to send their children to school. According to UNICEF, primary school attendance in rural Burkina Faso is only 45 percent.
Luckily, Kéré was the first born son of the head of his village, and was the only child allowed to attend school. After excelling in his studies, Kéré was awarded a scholarship to study in Europe and received a diploma in Architecture and Engineering at the Technische Universität in Berlin. While studying in Berlin, Kéré established his charity foundation called Schulbaustein für Gando (Bricks for Gando), in order to give back to his community.
In 2001, Kéré completed his first building, a primary school for students in his home village of Gando. Kéré utilized traditional clay-building techniques alongside modern engineering methods. The success of the project can also be attributed to local volunteers. Children from the village gathered stones for the school foundation and women brought water to help with brick manufacturing.
Since his building of the primary school, Kéré has constructed and developed plans for additional improvements to rural Burkina Faso, including teacher housing units, a school library, and a women’s center.
“[Kéré] is arguably the most influential African architect of his generation,” stated PMA curator Kathryn Hiesinger in a Metropolis Magazine article. The centerpiece of Kéré’s installation in Philadelphia, dubbed “Colorscape,” consists of thousands of strands of cord suspended from a steel frame.
The two layers of colored cord are meant to expose the contrasts of the rational and structured city of Philadelphia with Kéré’s organic and natural rural Burkina Faso. The viewer is meant to interact with the colored work in order to discover different spaces. The first time Kéré felt the energy in his “Colorscape” piece he said, “Wow. This is Gando.”
Francis Kéré’s installation, Building for Community, will be on display at the Philadelphia Museum of Art through September 25, 2016.
– Kristyn Rohrer