Sometimes the art pieces at Coachella have a much more global reach and meaning than just a colorful piece if art at a music festival. Last year the piece by Francis Kéré, Sarbalé ke, which means “the house of celebration” in Mooré was a series of 12 colorful steel and wood towers (some as tall as 60 feet) inspired by the African baobab tree. Baobabs have multiple uses as food and medicine. It’s the place where you get together, celebrate, and discuss. “The festival creates a playfulness, through the use of color, gathering, music and dance,” he has said. “I love the enthusiasm and energy of the U.S.” After the festival, he plans to place the installation in the East Valley of Coachella, to live on as a public gathering space.
Francis Kéré is a critically acclaimed architect and humanitarian who loves to explore the idea of gathering in his works, which often take shape as “canopies and spaces for knowledge exchange.” Kéré has undertaken projects in varied countries including Burkina Faso, Mali, Germany, the United States, Kenya, and Uganda.
His career highlights range from designing a primary school in his local community of Gando, Burkina Faso, in 2001, to the prestigious Serpentine Pavilion commission in London in 2017, for which he made a great, circular overhang that sprouted up from the ground like a tree.
Kéré’s dream is not just to build schools and to provide education, but to create an oasis in which the needs of the villagers of Gando are fulfilled. In order to do this, he has embarked on a project of planting mango trees. The project aims to address several major problems in the region.
Starvation is rare, but malnutrition is common in Gando and the surrounding area. The main staple is “foufou”, which consists of pounded and boiled millet. It contains few vitamins, and most people eat just once a day. Mangoes provide an important source of nourishment, and the vitamins help to strengthen the immune system. Furthermore, mango trees provide a vital source of shade. Daytime temperatures often reach 40 °C. In the midst of this intolerable heat, the cool space under a mango tree becomes an important meeting place for the village community, where children play, study and rest. A further objective is to teach pupils responsibility. Each pupil is given a tree to look after. In this way they learn how to plant and care for trees, and this is knowledge which they will pass on to their parents and the next generation.
Due to the rapidly expanding population, and the predominance of firewood as the main source of fuel, Burkina Faso has lost 60% of its trees in the last 15 years. This has led to detrimental consequences for the environment. Trees provide shade, protect the soil from erosion, stop desertification and regulate the groundwater regime. In addition to this, trees contribute to soil fertility, and to biodiversity in that they provide a habitat for many species.
Many of the festival goers probably did not know the deep meaning and the work of the artists as they used these playful structures as a shady spot to sit or the backdrop of their selfies, but I am very happy that the festival continues to support the artists who do this type of work across the globe.