I caught up with Burkina Faso-based French-raised set designer and visual artist Ouassila Kharoune and she took me on a ride into her fascinating world. Here, she mentions why set design is important for performance events and exhibitions..


KW: Could you please introduce yourself?

OK: My name is Ouassila Kharoune. I’m from France and I live in Ouagadougou. I’m a set designer and I draw.

KW: Do you have an education background or it’s raw talent?

OK:  I started as a science student. I wanted to be a chemist till I turned 18. I had a change of mind and I entered university and got into space design.

KW: How is your process like?

OK: I don’t do this because of architecture but for a set, to create designs for performances or exhibitions. It depends on the type of space but I work more with theatre. So it’s usually about the theme, text and context.

KW:  What are the difficulties and influences of the work?

OK: You have to know that it was a decision I made to live here in Burkina Faso, so I understood the difficulties beforehand. I found that there was an association of set design and that intrigued me. In France, there’s no organization like this where you have a lot of people coming together to share and coordinate set design jobs. Here, they work on a lot of events, festivals example FESPACO. It’s really interesting because there’s always something to do. The real difficulty is financial.

KW: Is it because they don’t appreciate the work of artists or don’t see the value?

OK: My job is not just art, it is technical. In theatre, here lies the big problem. They are now realizing that it’s really complex. They usually don’t think about what goes into it and don’t see set design as a real job or do not find it important. They put set design in the same box as comedians, performers, etc. They don’t think it is essential for a show, but it is. Good light, good sound, and a great background makes the event better.

KW: So you are part of a positive revolution in that direction?

OK: No, I joined the revolution.  *laughs*. I joined the movement because I know the first set designer.

KW: Who is the first set designer? Is he alive?

OK: We can’t say he is alive. He is Papa Kouyaté; the first to start this work in Burkina Faso. He is a legend. I was inspired by his work. But I can’t say my work is identical to his, because we each have different approaches in the constructive process of our work. Some of the set designers are carpenters from the start, so their approach might be via woodwork. Others work with steel. Some just make the work and give no explanations as if they just coughed it out. I start my work by making a drawing first, then reproduce it in reality. I don’t follow trends. I can’t mention a single point of influence.


KW: What are you up to at the moment?

OK: I recently started making animation films with Abraham Abga. On the side, I like listening to music, dance and I like partying. *chuckles*. When I was younger, I was into a lot of activities like gymnastics, music, horse racing, drawing, etc. I tried a lot of activities but it’s only drawing that I’m still hooked onto career-wise.

KW: Does your science background influence your work?

OK: My science background makes me a critical thinker in the production process, which might not be the same with others.

KW: Would you say your past influenced your present work? Like you’re always looking to add something new?

OK: Yeah, example when I want to do a drawing, my inspiration might come from music or the streets. Also, I love drawing other people and making portraits. I’m not inspired by just one type of art, that goes to narrow the mind or view.

KW: Is there any advise you would give up and coming artists?

OK: The advice I would give up and coming artists is that they should open their minds.

KW: How much do you charge for your work?

OK: I charge according to the size of the work and also it depends on who is asking. *laughs*

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Contact artist here: kharoune@hotmail.com





Hi guys, I visited and stayed in Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso during the harmattan for a few days to share poetry and connect with a fraction of a group of poets and artists from different countries in West Africa who stay socially conscious and are passionate about envisioning and carving out a new and fresh voice for the sub region using our art and community involvement, putting aside language and physical borders. In January this year, a few of them(Julio Teko, Efy, Trez and Moria- poets and graffiti artists from Togo) joined me and and other Ghanaian artists for The Write Experience at Alliance Francaise d’Accra in a performance fusion themed “environmentalism”.

Again, January 27, 2016 will see more of the group(poets from Togo, Benin and Burkina Faso) at The Write Experience II at the same venue (event page: https://www.facebook.com/events/735123143285966/). Whenever I travel, especially to other West African countries, I try as much as possible to get in touch through the grapevine with some practicing artists in these places and start conversations which end up with me documenting a little bit about them and their careers. I will post a few more from Burkina Faso. This here is one with an amazing painter, cartoonist, animator and multi-talented artist Abraham Abga:

photo courtesy artist

KW: How is it? Can we start with a brief introduction?

AA: I am Abraham Abga. I was born and raised in Ouaga and I’ve practiced art all my life. My art is all about space occupation. I am inspired by spaces and art is liberty to invade and explore what can come out of making use of a space. It churns in me the williness to create. If it is a canvas, it is painting..if it is a stage it is voice and rhythm- performance..if it is paper it is a drawing and so on. My artistic switch is turned on when I see spaces and I’m triggered to make something out of the emptiness.

KW: What does art mean to you?

AA: Art is totally freedom. There are no limits. Many people used to say what I’m doing was foolish but it is that loose criticism that propelled me to higher heights. So I thank them for giving me wings to push further.

KW: Looking at the difficulties in the country for a while now as a result of unstable governance and undercurrents of neo-colonialism, how do you find your feet?

AA: Many artists can relate to the difficulties and problems. THE KING’S FALL- a series I created last few years was focused on expressing what was going on in the political terrain. Unfair politics and the one dimensional policies they put across causes a disrupt in society; looking at Campaore’s prolonged rule for instance. Even if they cut off my fingers or hands, I will never stop. This is what I was born to do, and more so for my dear country. They cannot stop my mind and my art is my revolution.

KW: I’ve noticed you do not put your art in a box. What is contemporary art in your books?

AA:  I do contemporary painting. It is a window to the sociopolitical, economic and our cultural world.

KW: Where have you displayed your art?

AA: I have shown my work at Alliance Francaise in Accra twice. Also in France, Belgium and Germany. My art is different and stands out wherever I go. I write in Morri and that is my signature or trademark. I used to paint portraits in different colours and that is uniquely my style too. I think everybody in reality wears a mask. Society is built on a lot of personality deceptions. I never went to art school. It is a talent. Jean Michel Basquiat is an inspiration, but I do not need to follow the style of foreign artists like Picasso and co. My immediate environment is inspiration enough.

KW: What do you think of art from Africa currently? There seems to be a potential

AA: Yes. There is immense potential and we should focus and keeping it vibrant. France as an example, makes so much money from art and that boosts the economy.

KW: What are you working on at the moment?

AA: I just worked with Ouasila(who I will post about next) on a set design work for La Grand Nuit du Slam event. It was my first time doing set design. I am currently working on an animation project, again with Ouasila, who is doing the character design. We are coming up with an important piece that tells the sad story of Norbert Zongo‘s assassination.

Here are some of Abraham Abga’s works:



Dear all,I will contribute to BUT HE DOESN’ T HAVE ANYTHING ON! todays opening group show at Commune.1 / Cape Town running until Jan 21th 2016.

Other participating artists are Dominique Edwards, Rory Emmett, Susan Greenspan, Bonolo Illinois Kavula, Olivié Keck, Namsa Leuba, Troy Makaza, Siwaphiwe Mgoboza, Simphiwe Ndzube, Thabo Pitso, David Southwood and Lauren Webber.

I am showing screen prints, which I developed during my fellowship program in the Kala Art Institute / Berkeley (CA).

Wisteria, 2015

While learning this year about the bay area, my research turned its focus on the diversity of the plants. I find it fascinating that there is a huge variety of non-native plants from different climates, brought there and growing in so-called plant communities such as dunes, grasslands and forests. To follow up on my portrait series TEXTURES, I am interested in what is hidden behind an image, disguise and nature are playing again a major role in this work.

Spending a lot of time by myself and contemplating the genre of portraiture, I decided to work in a camouflage self-portrait process. It came to me like a solution at this time; and developed into a therapeutic conversation between the I and ME of which my ego seeks to achieve my self-reflexive identity. Working in this self-portrait process leads me to engage with plants in the bay, which fascinated and inspired me to be like them, making myself a home. By draping myself into them and becoming invisible at the same time allows me to the state of an absolute comfort zone.

I am delighted, that the group exhibition MATERIAL EFFECTS curated by Yesomi Umolu just opened its doors. It will be on view until April 3rd 2016 at the Eli and Edythe Broad Art Museum / Michigan State University, East Lansing.

Other Artists featured in the exhibition include Bernard Akoi-Jackson, Jelili Atiku, Ibrahim Mahama, Antje Majewski, Issa Samb and Otobong Nkanga.

I only realised in the year 2014 that I have a history of employing methodologies of disguise in my work. The series TEXTURES is unintentionally carrying references of the traditional West-African masquerade, the use of masks is a clear representation of concealment of the whole human body. During my artist residency at Jan van Eyck / Maastricht(NL) in 2014 I started to carve body masks in my own style. Looking at ways of bearing the mask; a double directional metaphor of my thorough transformation is taking place: indulging the supernatural forces, which I wish to amplify and at the same time allow myself to be transformed by them.

I have three masks on view beside video works.

My Father, 2015
I built this mask from old parts of furniture, which I collected from my mother’s compound. It is a very important mask for me. It is a mask about love. I dedicate it to my grandfather.The artwork involves improvisations I explore depending on information I have personally gathered and what I learned from my grandfather.
I admired his practicality and creativity; he would create something useful for his farm or fix something in the house. Come to think of it, he was constantly busy and I was busy sticking to his side. To build this mask after his death, I get to conceptualize a spiritual medium, which connects me to him again. I didn’t really think about how it could turn out. I just wanted to use his skills in my creative processes. If he were still alive, he would wonder what the use of this structure was. I would tell him I just wanted to be camouflaged to appear as a child again. I know he would smile.

A result of a conversation with Katharina Fink (Researcher) and Emeka Alams(Designer) is the textile installation Fallen a fragmented angel now on view at the group show FUTURE AFRICA: VISIONS IN TIME at theIwalewa Haus/ Bayreuth(DE) which runs until Feb 28th 2016.

Fallen, 2015
Quotes from the booklet by Katharina Fink:
“…Fashion and dress are aesthetic experiments of time-travel for me. And both artists, Zohra Opoku and Emeka Alams, are masters of this aesthetically driven travels. Particularly one paragraph by Emeka Alams caught my attention. Filed under the pages “history” on his homepage, he writes:
“Present: The trade has changed our world and reshaped our thoughts. Living by false standards we have forgotten what makes us truly rich and unique. Here, we strive for all things associated with the mind-frame of those who began this trade.
Formerly: We would gather in large numbers to mourn with those who mourn and to rejoice with those who rejoice. We have forgotten that we came from a place where guiding, correcting and rebuking is everyone’s task; a place with green forests, clean rivers and natural resources about. It was love … Still you don’t understand.”
…to see it come together as an artistic, ephemeral sculpture dangling in the black dome in the entry of Iwalewahaus, as a prelude and first act of the exhibition “FAVT: Future Africa Visions in Time” is an uplifting experience. The FAVT-exhibition and the dialogues of art and academic debate it is based on, took shape in a time in which the concept of “future” was mobilized more often than before. Facing the movement of refugees to the Northern states of Europe, particularly to Germany, words like those cited by Walter Benjamin are mobilized: a ‘storm’, ‘waves’ and ‘streams’ are metaphors chosen by media agents to stimulate mental images of the ‘other’.”—

I am also included in these compelling exhibitions running for a sweet while:

A group Show with ruby onyinyechi amanze, Clay Apenouvon, Mwangi Hutter and Délio Jasse until Dec 23rd 2015 at MARIANE IBRAHIM Gallery, Seattle.

MAKING AFRICA, a travelling Group Show curated by Amelie Klein and Okwui Enwezor, Shown until Feb 21st 2016 at Guggenheim Bilbao.

I hope you can catch one of these shows.

At last I want to draw your attention to this:
In June this year the Foundation for Contemporary Art-Ghana (FCA-Ghana) lost a section of our office building and library with the floods in Accra. We have launched a campaign for financial and professional support to rebuild our project space and library. With your support, FCA can continue to empower artists and develop a critical forum for the promotion of contemporary art in Ghana. Do spread and share the word.

Please visit these sites for more information:


Thank you. Enjoy the last moments of 2015.

Be well!