Belgian photographer Rita Willaert visited Tiébéle, in Burkina Faso, in 2009.

There, the Gurunsi people use mud, chalk, and cow dung to paint patterns on the walls of the village’s buildings.

Each new clay-and-straw cob home is decorated by a group of women in a process that is part group art project, part spiritual practice, and part architectural detailing job.

Before the rainy season sets in, the women use locally-found materials to inscribe patterns and colors into the walls of the newly-constructed homes.

Fresh dung is used to bind the colors to the walls (and strengthen the structures).

Then, the whole wall is varnished with a mixture made by boiling néré pods, from a common local tree.

There’s a strong social element to the work--the younger women follow the lead of their elders who create the patterns.

Their content ranges from spiritual symbols to decorative motifs.

There’s also an important functional purpose: the patterns and varnish protect the walls from erosion.

The deep lines that run horizontally over the mud facades act as tiny, ad hoc gutters, channeling the flow of water over the surface.

It’s a social, spiritual, and architectural tradition.

Co.Design

The Beautiful Hand-Drawn Home Facades Of Burkina Faso

These earthen homes—beautiful but also structurally necessary—are decorated by groups of women within the community.

Cob—a mixture of clay, dung, sand, and water—is pretty much the oldest building material in human civilization. It’s also one of the most durable, withstanding heat, earthquakes, and rain, for centuries in some cases. You can find it in England, Afghanistan, and Africa, and thanks to the efforts of some modern builders, it’s currently enjoying a comeback.

In Tiébéle, a small village in the south of Burkina Faso, it never went away. There, each new clay-and-straw cob home is decorated by a group of women from the Gurunsi community, in a process that is part group art project, part spiritual practice, and part architectural detailing job. These images from Belgian photographer Rita Willaert are some of the most beautiful we’ve seen of the town.

You can read a ton about the women’s work online (or check out the great documentary Traces, Women’s Imprints), but here’s a quick rundown of how it works. Before the rainy season sets in, women use chalk and a mixture of mud and dung to inscribe patterns and colors into the walls of the newly constructed homes. Fresh dung is used to bind the colors to the walls (and strengthen the structures), and then the whole wall is varnished with a mixture made by boiling néré pods, from a common local tree.

There’s a strong social element to the work, with younger women acting as the interns to their project manager elders. Handye Magazine explains:

The work on the walls reflects the informal organization of the community. Women of all ages come together, with the older women taking the lead and guiding the younger women. The most senior woman is responsible for taking a stone and incising the first line. She starts with a long horizontal line across the top, drawn quickly with the confidence of someone who knows exactly what she’s doing. Other women then join in, filling out the overall pattern.

Though there’s social and spiritual meaning to the decorations, it turns out that they also serve an important functional purpose. The deep lines that run horizontally over the mud facades act as tiny, ad hoc gutters, channeling the flow of water over the surface. The néré varnish helps to prevent leakage and erosion from the foot-thick walls, which were necessary for protection from raiding slavers. Which partially explains how the Gurunsi got their name: It’s derived from the word Guru-si, which means “iron does not penetrate.”

[H/t Visual News]

Add New Comment

4 Comments

  • GR

    Let me try again. This is far more than something teenagers would do in some suburban backyard. This is art in the purest sense-- the caretakers of the hearth come together to create beauty that protects their dwellings and cements their sense of community and tradition. I believe there is something powerful that happens when the elders of a people are revered and the young are groomed to become leaders. This is art at its truest sense, unlike modern art created in isolation for visual purposes only. I do not mean disrespect to our contemporary artists, only to try and shed light on the essence of the art in question.

  • Steve Pender

    I'll go ahead and say it: the emperor's art is no better than a kindergartener. This is just crudely drawn, 2rd grader quality geometric designs. This site's content is becoming like a TED talk where the first presenter explains something amazing, like 3D printers, and the next is a toddler painting with their fingers. This just doesn't even remotely match the quality worthy of anyone's attention. If this were even a group of teenagers making it in their backyard, it wouldn't even be so much as local news worthy.

  • AmandaMorenike

    Mr Henry,

    Clearly you have no comprehension for the beauty of cultural art. The beauty of the architecture is not only in the geometric design it is the structural forms as well. Maybe if you built a village up from the ground and embraced traditional (and may I add) Skilful techniques, you'd have a greater understanding of what something "Amazing" is.