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Burning Artwork

Burning Artwork


So you’re planning on building something beautiful and then burning it?

Nice! But are you sure about that?  Just because this is AfrikaBurn doesn’t mean you have to send your artwork up in a ball of flames. We love art that burns beautifully, for a good reason. But we also really love art that has a life beyond Tankwa Town.

Building a sculpture, and building a sculpture to burn – these are two very different things.
If you’re intending to build a sculpture that burns remember that effectively you are building a fire that looks like a sculpture. This means structuring it appropriately and using suitable materials. Seriously, you can’t use any old chemical – that stuff will hurt us!

If you can, get advice from a pyrotechnician.  If you don’t have a tame one of your own at home, contact safety@afrikaburn.com for input on your build and burn plans.

Consider how your structure will burn. A good guide is the fire triangle. To burn well, a fire needs fuel, heat and oxygen. Let’s look at each of these:


You should build your structure from wood, fabric, and other good fuels. The size and spread of fuels affects the burn, with small or thin pieces burning quickly, as opposed to thick beams that will be hard to light and take longer to burn through. You can top up the structure with accelerants such as wax and paraffin to make the burn quicker. No napalm or other nasty chemical cocktails! Wood scraps and waste cloth also help. In fact, if you’re building to burn you really should be using as much reclaimed, recycled or waste material as possible. Avoid petrol as it is very volatile and can be explosive. Diesel can be hard to set alight.


Heat is spread three ways, namely conduction, convection and radiation. Convection is the most important of these for burning a sculpture. Start the fire at the bottom, and design your sculpture with chimneys in it to channel the heat. Chimneys also trap radiant heat. By contrast, open or latticed structures are hard to burn


In most cases there is plenty of oxygen available, but again chimneys are useful to get a flow of air through the sculpture. Make sure that the chimney has openings at both ends to let air through.



Avoid any materials that will give off toxic gasses when burning. Plastics such as PVC, foam, some paints and treated wood all give off noxious gasses when set on fire. The best materials are untreated wood and cotton cloth.

Please use natural reclaimed, recycled and waste material wherever possible.



If you plan to burn your art you must let the burn team know well in advance, and no later than the 28 February registration deadline. The fire and art teams need to know your plans and specific information about the piece, including its size, the materials and accelerants you’ll be using, and if there are any flame effects involved. They will be able to offer advice on burn perimeters (normally twice the height of the sculpture), and will help you to set a burn time.

Know that you will need to provide a team of sober people, big enough to establish the burn perimeter around your piece, and to maintain it until the fire has fully burnt out.
You’ll need to have fire extinguishers on hand in case of an emergency.

And you’ll need to clean your site thoroughly the morning after your burn. This includes the removal of all burn debris – charred wood, nails and staples and other metal, even the ash must be swept up and taken away for appropriate disposal when you return home.

If you’re thinking about making art to burn make sure you also read the Burning Artwork Guidelines:


Not everything can or should burn. And so not all pieces that apply to burn will be scheduled.

We will only schedule a handful of sculptural burns each year. These are exceptional structures, designed to burn beautifully, or needing to be burnt for reasons inherent in the meaning or intention of the piece.

Why will we only schedule certain burns?

The most important practical reason is that we simply do not have the resources to properly manage numerous burns on any one night. It’s demanding work, maintaining a burn perimeter, and our Health & Safety crew work tirelessly at it to keep us all from accidental injury.

The most important philosophical reason is that having numerous burns dilutes the potency of the experience. For everyone. A burn is a period of intense energy – whether combustive and celebratory, or introspective and meditative.

We all lose the potency and the immediacy of the experience if we’re hustling off to find the next one. And for the crew who find themselves burning alone, it can feel like a bit of a letdown.

If your piece does not get scheduled as an official burn, so long as you have adhered to the materials guidelines you will still be able to burn your piece on the burn platform. This may well also be scheduled, depending on the number of projects. You’d need to carry your piece (possibly broken down into more manageable pieces) to the burn platform in order to do this.


Contact AfrikaBurn’s Emergency Services by emailing esd@afrikaburn.com