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Suka - Movement of Massk

A living cultural memory

From the 1.3. -25.3.2012 in Burkina Faso


Traditional masks are developed and refined over centuries. With their recognizable traits and features they appeal to the collective experience of the audience or the participants of a ceremony. These masks carry vital social and cultural information about the social structure they have been created in. They are incorporated oral history, so to speak physical documents of the cultural memory of a community.
Used in theatre or ceremonies, they can connect the past, the present and the future. Appealing also to a subconscious level they are able to create other ways of perception and acceptance.

We work with two deeply rooted traditions, the Burkinabé Suka, a mask performance and the Wild Hunt, a European tradition.
The legend of the Wild Hunt exists in various interpretations all over Europe. Analysing the sociocultural background of the Wild Hunt, it reveals itself as an aesthetic representation and a coping strategy dealing with poverty and social dislocations. Over the course of time it turned from a legend into cultural practice using masks, influencing medieval carnival traditions and popular theatre. Taking the development of the Wild Hunt as a paradigm, it provides us with a theatrical working structure dealing with social and cultural issues and conflicts.

The project aims to explore and adapt both mask traditions and make them tangible for contemporary use. We take these traditions and develop the above mentioned working structure into a performance about gender equality and the situation of the Burkinabé women.
The project is placed around a conference about gender equality and panels with artists, intellectuals and civil society organizations, discussing historical and legendary trails of women that have marked the history of Africa, the contribution of culture in the fight against gender inequality and the new place of men. We will integrate the outcome of the conference into the performance.

As we work within the field of traditional and popular culture, we put a strong emphasis on the down-to-earth aspects of the work. Combining theoretical research with performing experience, we work with contemporary translations of the traditions mentioned above, with mask dance, music, archetypical mask characters and the creation of masks. We also include elements of the Commedia dell´Arte and the grotesque body. Here the focus will be on the social functions of humour and comedy and their integrative and regulative effect to the social fabric of a community. The overall object is to create useful and sustainable tools for social change.


Subjects in detail


Theory 1st week and 2nd week
- Introduction and historical background
- Cultural studies and the cultural memory
- Working with masks and social and cultural codes
- Social functions of humour and comedy
- The grotesque body and the transformation of social and cultural values
- Suka, cultural practice in Burkina Faso
- Commedia dell´ Arte, main characters
- The Wild Hunt, legends and cultural practice in Europe

Performing and Mask Making 1st week
- Physical training
- Archaic masks; working with archetypical gestures and positions in a social space, Larval Masks: intuition and spontaneity , Expressive masks: evolution of a mask character from a creature into a ritual structure into a social archetype
- The masks of the Commedia dell´ Arte
- Archetypical African and European masks
- Designing a mask in clay
- Creating a mask with traditional handcrafts

Suka and the Wild Hunt 2nd week
- Masks in Europe and Africa, a comparative physical study
- Development of mask characters
- Mask dance
- Performing Suka
- Performing the Wild Hunt
- Improvisation of scenes
- Synopsis and dramaturgical analysis
- Creating a mask performance
- Performance