At the evening reception of MoMA’s Fall 2010 exhibition openings Tuesday, the award-winning architect Diébédo Francis Kéré gave New Yorkers some serious perspective when describing what it was like to grow up in his African village, Gando, in Burkina Faso.
“There is no drinking water. There is no clean water. There is no electricity … and the illiteracy rate is about 90 percent. Ninety percent. Can you imagine that? This is not in America,” he said.
The rising architect is featured in curator Andres Lepik’s “Small Scale, Big Change,” which chronicles the projects of 11 architects from all over the world. It is an unusual exhibition for MoMA, as the people behind the exhibit are not artists, but the social change they create in communities is chronicled as art through photos and video.
After leaving Gando at age 19 and attending the Technise Universiteit in Berlin, Kéré organized a community project in 1999 in which the entire village participated in building a school for its children with Kéré’s innovative method that keeps the buildings from overheating and uses the abundant resource of clay.
“I was the first one from my village to attend primary education, and I had this chance to come to Germany to learn to build, and I wanted to give something back to my people,” Kéré said, describing the story behind his project to design the Schulbausteine fur Gando eV (School Building Blocks for Gando).
Kéré is the type of person who grabs your hand like an old friend when he has just met you. Down the right side of his face is a row of horizontal imprints, like an indented tattoo. The architect said the story behind the decoration is a “secret” but admitted it was a symbol of his dedication to his village.
Running to a video showing villagers banding together clay bricks at the exhibit’s entrance, Kéré happily pointed out his sister, brother and father to onlookers. He said his village has 5,000 people, and he knows all of them.
“I’d like to be there and work with them. This is what I love,” he said. “When I go to Burkina Fasa I am tired. Really, I am tired. But then I meet my community and I start to work hard with them and I forget the West because of the enthusiasm of my people.”
MoMA opened four floors of its exhibits to curators, artists, collectors and museum goers for their season's opening night. At least 2,000 attended and perused the new exhibits as well as enjoyed an open bar in the lobby.