Salon International de l’Artisanat de Ouagadougou (SIAO), or International Crafts Fair of Ouagadougou, is the main arts festival in Burkina Faso. It gives the opportunity to artisans from Africa, Asia, and Europe to showcase their handiwork, to trade and represent their countries and also strike up friendships and business relationships. The festival was born in 1984, from the will of the Burkinabè political authorities who realized that handicrafts contributed to the growth of African economies in the same way agriculture does. It was established as a full-fledged festival in 1990 with the participation of some 30 African countries. It is often referred to as la vitrine de l’artisanat or the showcase of craftmanship and enables other vital and interrelated activities also such as auditing, consulting and training in the field of craftmanship. A series of workshops is held on issues related to the production and promotion of artwork abroad, and instructors or presenters are selected distinguished resource persons.
The fair is organized every two years and, to many, it is the ideal framework for African artisans who market their products on national and international markets and the Burkinabè national authorities provided it with an administrative structure in order to improve the structure of the festival. This biennale of African handicrafts also encourages and facilitates the organization of artistic, cultural and commercial events on the site. The SIAO rewards creativity and a special pavilion called the Creativity Pavilion selects and exhibits the best products of each edition and the festivals also set up a jury comprised of experts and professionals of international renown who select high quality handcrafted products for export. Nothing is left out and the festival keeps improving over the years and at its current stage, one of the impressive additions to SIAO is the “B to B wing” or pavilion, a framework for sharing experience and partnership, connecting professional buyers with local craftsmen to promote and grow craftsmanship.
The festival’s framework is a real architectural gem. It covers an area of approximately seven hectares, made up of three air-conditioned pavilions, two ventilated pavilions and one pavilion of creativity. The design also comprises two bonded warehouses, one meeting room, one conference room, a restaurant area and a children’s play area. SIAO boasts of a Fashion Alley, which offers a mixture of materials, colours, effects, and original cuts, the climax of dazzling fashion. The best of African fashion and attire is exhibited there, through splendid stuff worn by the Tuareg, Fulani, Maasai and Berber ethnic groups. The Flavors Gallery is patronized by mouthwatering drinks. Original sumptuous irresistible flavors attest to the presence of tchapalo (special brewed millet alcohol), degué (millet flour specially granulated and softly cooked, dipped into lightly sour milk with sugar, in low temperature), néré, shea juice and kinkeliba juice. The last three products are mostly known for their medicinal virtues, but this fair promotes their delicacy. The Arts Gallery brings together bronzers, ceramists, potters and stylists who are masters of their craft. It gathers works of art that are not only original, unique and rare but they are also prized by collectors and discerning amateurs. The SIAO succeeds in showing the beautiful, pleasant, useful, nutritious and delicious in produces and materials of the terrain, precisely of Africa.
This year’s edition is a special one since it occurs in a context of political transition, in a country that has been the victim of Jihadist attacks for almost a decade. That context of insecurity caused this SIAO edition, initially scheduled between 28 October and 6 November 2022, to be postponed since the two coups d’état contributed to heighten the panic caused by the daily Al-Qaeda related Jihadist attacks. Finally, the 16th edition of the International Crafts Fair of Ouagadougou (SIAO) was held from 27 January to 6 February 2023 under the theme: “African crafts, lever of development and factor of resilience of populations”. The most crucial or central aspect of this edition was security, and fortunately, that was not deficient, and the current director general of the festival, Mr Dramane Tou celebrated the capability that Burkina showed in that regard, especially during the period of the SIAO. His statement combines a gratification to African ancestries and the general goals of all editions: “Thanks to the divine blessing, the ghosts of the ancestors and the blessings of all, we had the chance to organize a 16th edition in good condition. The report is positive because we were lucky enough to have quite interesting results in terms of the participation of the key players who are the craftsmen, in terms of the participation of the general public and in terms of the participation of the men and women of the press”.
For 10 days, craftsmen from all over the world were strongly mobilized and figures confirm that 3,600 of them were present, plus 50 accredited media, 500 journalists, and 360,000 visitors trooped in every day. The commercial dimension also represented by buyers who came from numerous countries and continents and the host country. Thirty professional buyers were present, and the organizing committee was sure that they would break the record of 805 million CFA in revenue. SIAO aims to be the world’s largest fair for African crafts. This year, participants came from 21 countries in Africa, Asia, Europe and America, with roughly 700 stands. One would not be overambitious by stating that this 16th edition of the SIAO is that of resilience, the resilience of an event that has stood the test of time since its establishment some thirty years ago, the resilience of a people who have always known how to stand up proudly to face the vagaries and other vicissitudes of life. This event, over the years, has established itself as one of the major attractions of “the country of upright men” of which it is also one of the showcases, in the same way as the FESPACO (Pan-African Film and Television Festival of Ouagadougou), and the International Cycling Tour of Faso, to name but a few. The two festivals are occurring this year, just few days apart. Ouagadougou is undeniably the mecca of Black art, at least for some time.
Moussa Traoré is Associate Professor at the Department of English, University of Cape Coast, Ghana.