African art

From Academic Kids

Missing image
Makonde carving c.1974

African art is any form of art that originates from the continent of Africa. This article discusses primarily visual art; for information on African music, see Music of Africa.

Despite a flourishing contemporary art scene, in the Western art world African art is mostly associated with traditional tribal art such as masks, shields, textiles, body art, jewelry, and statues.


Area of influence

The phrase "African art" usually refers to art in the Saharan and sub-Saharan areas of Africa. It is less associated with art from the Muslim areas of north Africa, which is often referred to as Islamic art and consists primarily of designs and geometric shapes.


The origins of African art lie long before recorded history. African rock art in the Sahara Desert in Niger preserves 6000-year-old carvings [1] ( The earliest known sculptures are from the Nok culture of Nigeria, made around 500 BCE. Along with Sub-Saharan Africa, the cultural arts of the western tribes, ancient Egyptian artifacts, and indigenous southern crafts also contributed greatly to African art. Often depicting the abundance of surrounding nature, the art was often abstract interpretations of animals, plant life, or natural designs and shapes.

More complex methods of producing art were first introduced to Sub-Saharan Africa around the 13th century, along with the spread of Islam. Bronze and brass castings, often ornamented with ivory and precious stones, became highly prestigious in much of West Africa, sometimes being limited to the work of court artists and identified with royalty, as with the Benin Bronzes.

Traditional art

'Traditional' art describes the most popular and studied forms of African art which are typically found in museum collections. Wooden masks, which might either be human or animal, are one of the most commonly found forms of art in western Africa. In their original contexts, ceremonial masks are used by actors and dancers in religious, political or social performances. Ivory, stone, and semi-precious gems were also included in the masks, along with materials to make statues. Decorative clothing was also commonplace, and comprise another large part of African art, using complicated techniques. African pottery and weavings have some similarity to Native American art.

Contemporary art

Notable modern artists include Zerihuna Yetmgeta, Olu Oguibe, Lubaina Himid, and Bill Bidjocka. Art biennials are held in Dakar, Senegal, and Johannesburg, South Africa. Many contemporary African artists are represented in museum collections, and their art may sell for high prices at art auctions.

Influence on Western art

At the start of the twentieth century, artists like Picasso, Matisse and Modigliani were profoundly inspired by abstract African sculptures in their search for new forms of expression. For the West, the cubist movement was the first time 'traditional' African masks and sculptures were analysed as works of art rather than ethnographic pieces.


By country

Côte d'Ivoire

The Baoulé, the Senoufo and the Yacouba peoples are skilled at carving wood and each culture produces wooden masks in wide variety. The Côte d'Ivorian peoples use masks to represent animals in caricature to depict deities, or to represent the souls of the departed.

As the masks are held to be of great spiritual power, it is considered a taboo for anyone other than specially trained persons to wear or possess certain masks.

These ceremonial masks each are thought to have a soul, or life force, and wearing these masks is thought to transform the wearer into the entity the mask represents.


In the northern part of Botswana, tribal women in the villages of Etsha and Gumare are noted for their skill at crafting baskets from Mokola Palm and local dyes. The baskets are generally woven into three types: large, lidded baskets used for storage large, open baskets for carrying objects on the head or for winnowing threshed grain, and smaller plates for winnowing pounded grain. The artistry of these baskets is being steadily enhanced through color use and improved designs as they are increasingly produced for commercial use.


Persisting for 3000 years and thirty dynasties, the "official" art of Egypt was centred on the state religion of the time. The art ranged from stone carvings of both massive statues and small statuettes, to wall art that depicted both history and mythology. In 2600 BC the maturity of Egyptian carving reached a peak it did not reach again for another 1500 years during the reign of Rameses II.

A lot of the art possesses a certain stiffness, with figures poised upright and rigid in a most regal fashion. Bodily proportions also appear to be mathematically derived, giving rise to a sense of fantastic perfection in the figures depicted. This most likely was used to reinforce the godliness of the ruling caste. The style and fluidity of the human form in Egyptian art of this era far surpassed its counterparts in Greece which often contained awkward transition between torso and pelvis, and pelvis and thigh.

See also

External links

pt:Arte africana


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