Ambre Jarno nurtures a creative relationship with Burkina Faso.
WHEN AMBRE JARNO was working in Burkina Faso a few years ago for a French TV company, she asked local craftsmen to make pieces of furniture for her home in its capital, Ouagadougou. In her free time, she hunted around to buy hand-carved pieces from antique dealers, nurturing a passion for West African craftsmanship. The experience proved pivotal. In 2017 she decided to found her own company and showroom, Maison Intègre, that sells carefully sourced early 20th-century objects from West Africa.
Earlier this year, Jarno also began commissioning young French designers to create a collection of limited edition pieces in collaboration with Burkinabe craftsmen. “My idea with Maison Intègre is to show and share these magnificently beautiful objects that guarantee a sourcing of quality pieces from antique dealers,” Jarno, 31, says. “I’m striving to propose a whole universe around these objects and tell their stories, and create a dialogue between the more traditional African arts and contemporary design.”
The eclectic identity of Maison Intègre was spotlighted at the second edition of AKAA (Also Known As Africa), the African contemporary art and design fair that took place in November last year in Paris. In the lower level of the Carreau du Temple, a former indoor market near the Place de la République, Jarno curated a lounge showcasing a diversity of Maison Intègre’s sourced objects made by different ethnic groups in Burkina Faso, Ivory Coast and Mali. There was pottery, masks and bed posts, as well as sofas and chairs carved from wood and upholstered with textiles woven in Burkina Faso. Of particular interest were the stools made by the Senufo tribe that dip in the middle and are carved from a single piece of wood, and ladders by the Lobi tribe that enabled people to climb up the facade of their house to get cereals out of the cellar.
Upstairs, on the stand of Nelly Wandji, an African arts gallery in Paris, were the first contemporary objects produced by Maison Intègre: a collection of bronze pieces made using the ancestral lost wax technique in Ouagadougou. Charlotte Thon and Marc Boinet designed a six-legged ‘Zindi’ stool (inspired by the Nupe stools made for Nigeria’s royal family); table and hanging lamps, ‘Dundun Bells’ (inspired by a Malian drum); and ‘Nambo’ plates resting on small feet (inspired by Senufo stools).
Boinet and Thon went to Burkina Faso for several weeks to manage the production with the craftsmen and found it an enriching experience. “The Burkinabe craftsmen master the ancestral lost wax technique, using tools and methods similar to those first used by humans 6,000 years ago,” says Boinet. “We were able to learn this ancient art and deepen our techniques while developing a formal, imaginary idea overlapping several cultures. With Maison Intègre we hope to build a bridge between our contemporary design-project culture and the traditional, Burkinabe culture. While some craftsmen practise their trade to make ends meet, others are real artists carrying out in-depth research about the form, usage and meaning of their works, which led to rich encounters for both parties.”
A third designer, Pia Chevalier, looked at the slingshots and flutes of the Lobi tribe mainly found in Burkina Faso’s southwestern region in order to design a set of three candleholders. “The aesthetic of the pieces is inspired by the aesthetic of older pieces that I liked,” says Jarno, explaining how she commissioned the bronze collection. “What’s interesting is having young, motivated, talented designers who share something with Burkina Faso’s craftsmen and each person learning something from the other.”
Jarno, who plans to launch other collections in materials such as wood, leather or silver, travels to Burkina Faso every two to three months to meet antique dealers and guide the craftsmen to perfect the finishings. But she admits that complications can arise: “The logistics and bringing the pieces over to France are difficult; it’s a long journey but we’re getting there.”