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Burkinabé Artist Finds Talent in Sculpting


Friday, October 31, 2008
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West African artist Rabi Sanfo has found a home for his metal sculptures in Minneapolis. His art has been on display across the Twin Cities in colleges, museums, art exhibits, and very recently at the Minnesota State Fair.

Born and raised in Burkina Faso, with his eight siblings, Sanfo’s venture into art began with welding when he created wooden furniture at a factory where he worked.

Yet, Sanfo’s true creativity came to life after he relocated to Minnesota.  He produced his artwork in his garage, piece by piece; his creativity knew no bounds. One day Sanfo’s creativity was put to test when he was challenged to create a table with human-figure sculptures for legs, The result was a resounding success that pushed him to begin working on sculptures as an art form. Before long, his sculptures were admitted for display at the Frank Stone Gallery in Northeast Minneapolis, where he sold most of his pieces.

Inspired by his new-found talent, Sanfo has been sculpting successfully for the last couple of years. He now rents an art studio and an office in Minneapolis. On display in his studio is an 18-piece collection titled “Remnants” that he will present at the Science Museum in Chicago.

He draws his talent from a desire to tell stories: stories that his father told him. A fable writer of two unpublished books, Sanfo’s father left him ideas through words. Sanfo has taken these ideas and created a physical narration with sculptures using skills learned from studying engineering and tool making in college.

“As a sculptor I want people to question me, and learn from me about my art,” he says, explaining why his pieces are titled in French, his country’s official language instead of English.

Sanfo describes his work thus, “My art is modern African furniture and decorative objects inspired by my country, Burkina Faso, and Africa in general. Through these pieces, I hope people become more aware of the impressive art history in West Africa.”

Sanfo is on a new quest: he is interested in bronze casting. While on a visit to Burkina Faso earlier this year he began an apprenticeship with a seasoned artist. Adhering to Burkinabé tradition, Sanfo presented gifts to a master of bronze casting and asked for permission to learn the delicate craft. This same tradition also requires a student to be of the same tribe as the master.

This summer an iron piece “The Industrious Cooperative Ant”, which he created for the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources, was celebrated at the Minnesota State Fair. The project whose center piece was an old rusted wheelbarrow was a result of a creation from found objects retrieved from the Mississippi River by Sanfo and other artists.

With several Minnesotan awards under his belt, Sanfo looks forward to displaying his work at Africa’s prestigious International Art and Craft Fair, Ouagadougou (Le Salon International de L Artisanat de Ouagadougou), a trade show held bi-annually in Burkina Faso.

However, nowhere is his art more celebrated than in St. Paul where the University of Saint Thomas uses his piece “Mother Earth” for a Leadership Award Trophy. 

Sanfo’s sculptures can be viewed online at

www.mnartists.org and on his personal blog.

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About Helen Kinuthia

Helen blogs on the Minneapolis nightlife and entertainment scene. You can read her entries here.

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