Africa - art
African art, in the professional literature and museum
world, denotes the traditional, visual art produced by the
many different peoples of sub-Saharan Africa. The art of
northern and northeastern Africa is often seen as an
offshoot of the cultures of the Mediterranean and West Asia
with which this part of the continent has had long-standing
relations; it is dealt with here in articles on the
individual countries as well as under Islamic art. The many
and very different sub-Saharan peoples, on the other hand,
despite their differences, have been perceived as real and
indigenous Africa, their culture as distinctive African and
their art as the art of Africa. Visit
AbbreviationFinder.org for a list of African
Africa's visual arts encompass many different arts.
Personalized decoration is of great importance and has been
developed into refined forms in tattooing, body painting,
jewelery and costume art. In addition to its purely
decorative function, it often has important social
Weaving is done in many different techniques and
materials. Complicated pattern weaving is particularly
prevalent in West Africa, for example, in Ghana in the kente
weaving of the Ashanti people. The Cuba people of the
Democratic Republic of Congo are known for their geometric
patterned "plush" embroidery fabrics. Examples of this
technique reached as early as the 1600s. to Europe from
Angola. Application is used to produce figurative motifs in
the Fon Kingdom of Benin and in geometric patterns of
Central African people. A variety of dyeing methods are used
to make textile patterns: Batik, wrap and stencil techniques
have been widely used in large parts of West Africa in
recent years and are carried out, for example, by Yoruba
people in Nigeria. A special etching technique is
characteristic of dogon and bamana people in Mali. Fabric
print is made by ashanti people.
Painting is the art of which one has the oldest
testimonies in Africa. In Sahara's rock massifs, for example
in Tassili n'Ajjer, and in dry southern Africa, rock
paintings and carvings with animal and human motifs were
performed by hunters and nomads. Some of these paintings are
believed to have been done 3000-4000 years before our time.
Some may be even older, and in South Africa there are
examples of rock paintings made by San people in the 1800s.
with Dutch immigrants as a motive.
House decoration in the form of exterior and interior
murals occurs in many parts of Africa. These may be
figurative paintings with religious motifs or geometric
patterns in interaction with architecture. An example of
this is to be found among Ndebele people in South Africa.
Ceramics are manufactured and used by most African
people. The ceramics of use can be quite simple, but the
ceramics can also, especially in the case of things for
ritual use, take sculptural forms. Examples of human-shaped
clay vessels are known from people in northern Nigeria and
from the ngbetu people in the northern Democratic Republic
of Congo. An example of non-figurative sculptural pottery is
the ritual vessels made by the Igbo people of eastern
Actual sculptures of solidly burnt clay appear scattered
within a larger area of West Africa. Particularly well
known are the archaeological finds in the area around Djenne
in Mali and the sculptures from Nok and Ife in Nigeria.
The sculpture is one of the art forms of Africa that has
received the most attention in the outside world, not least
after being inspired by French and German artists in
particular in the early 1900s. (see primitivism).
The African sculpture belongs to the agricultural
communities in West and Central Africa. But there are also
examples of sculpture traditions in East and South Africa.
In addition to burnt clay, many other materials have been
used, such as stone, bronze, brass, iron and ivory. But by
far the most common material is wood. The traditional
African sculpture is figurative. The motives are people and
animals. The image is frontal. The term varies from
idealized naturalism, with a climax in the art of terracotta
and bronze sculptures, to extreme stylization, as occurs,
for example, in the tomb figures of the kota peoples, whose
head and body are united in a mask-like form. The sculpture
is closely related to religion, and it plays a central role
in social life everywhere. It is a means of making contact
with gods, spirits and ancestors, and at the same time is a
tool to harness the power they possess.
The shapes and roles of sculpture are different from
people to people. Anfigures represent the ancestors. They
are near to the gods and, if sacrificed, will speak the
cause of the living and give them protection. The gods
themselves are rarely depicted in the sculpture, but it does
occur, for example, in the Yoruba people of Nigeria.
Sculptures to glorify deceased rulers are known from the
Cuba people of the Democratic Republic of Congo and from the
bronze art at the Benin Court in Nigeria. Some sculptures
have very specific purposes, such as the Akan people's
acuaba figures, which are intended to provide the owner with
beautiful children. Fetishes also have precise purposes,
protective or destructive. They do not have to be
sculpturally designed, but they are, for example, with the
Congo people in the Democratic Republic of Congo and Congo.
Masks can appear in many different contexts and
functions. They can represent spirits and ancestors or
parody the living. Traditionally, they are often carried by
persons in public office who, with the help of the mask,
obtain anonymity, while at the same time performing their
task with the authority of the mask. Many masks are
associated with religious and political corporations and are
used in their admission ceremonies.
The wood sculptures are made by male artists. Their
social position varies greatly in the different communities.
In northern West Africa, they often belong to the
blacksmith, who has low social status but who is feared for
his magical ability. Elsewhere, for example, with the Dan
people in Liberia and at Yoruba, artists can gain fame and
reputation. The artist is bound by traditions and rules, but
often develops his own style, just as the individual peoples
and cultures each have their own distinctive style.
Due to climatic conditions and insect infestation,
African wood sculptures rarely reach a high age and it is
therefore generally difficult to follow the stylistic
development over a long period. However, wooden sculptures
from burial grounds of the dogon people of Mali have been
carbon-14 dated to around 1100.
But the oldest known African sculptures are of more
durable materials. Terracotta figures from Nigeria are
discussed above. At Nok in the northern part of the country,
terracotta figures from a period starting from 400-500 years
before our time have been found. They show great resemblance
to terracotta sculptures from the 1100s, found by
archaeological excavations in the holy city of the Yoruba
people of Ife, and with contemporary Yoruba wood sculptures
from southwestern Nigeria. In Ife, a tradition of bronze
casting was developed or continued in parallel with the art
of terracotta, which according to oral traditions formed the
basis for Beninhoffet's bronze art. It was still in use when
an English punitive expedition in 1897 conquered the city.
Both in Ife and Benin are examples of metal sculptures akin
to the oldest known African metal sculptures found at
archaeological excavations in Igbo Ukwu in eastern Nigeria.
They date to 800-h. So far, such artistic continuity and
coherence have not been demonstrated in art anywhere else in
The encounter with industrial culture, with Islam and
with Christian missionaries has in many cases weakened the
traditional African religions and with them the traditional
art. In some places, the tradition is still alive. In many
places it is dead. New traditions have emerged, such as the
modern sculptures of the Makonde people, which were
originally a product of contact with European administrators
and tourists. There are also examples that the tourism
industry and demand from collectors have kept alive
traditions whose local conditions no longer exist. Often,
however, the new customers affect the tradition in a
direction that can hardly be described as African.
For many modern African artists, traditional art is an
inspiration, but in these cases there is no real
continuation of the tradition.
The most important Danish collection of African art can
be found at the National Museum, where the art of Central
Africa in particular is richly represented. The museum's
collection was expanded in 1968 with Amalie and Carl
Kjersmeier's large collection. Another important Danish
collection of African art is created by the sculptor Poul
Holm Olsen, mainly in the 1960s and 1970s. Today it is owned
by Holstebro Art Museum.
Africa - modern art
The art of the new African states has deep roots in
ancient art. The European and American interest has kept
alive the traditional African art, but has also been
instrumental in changing the conditions for its development.
The woodcarving art is now also being cultivated with
sales to tourists in mind, such as the so-called airport
art, and other forms of expression survive in export
production and by supplying a growing art market, especially
in the big cities.
But influences from Western culture have also influenced
the development of modern African art. The colonial powers
brought their own art with them to Africa, and it was part
of the cultural colonization of the countries, based on,
among other things. Christian and Islamic religion.
African artists have traveled and studied in Europe, the
United States and the Soviet Union, bringing home the
impetus and techniques of individual countries and
international currents such as Impressionism, Expressionism,
Social Realism and Abstract Art.
An important impetus for the arts is urbanization, as the
public and business needs for decoration and signage have
helped create a naive folk art, which is called the
In many African countries, art academies and schools have
been set up, seeking to develop an art with national
distinctiveness and content. Visual art from all parts of
the African continent is becoming part of the international
art world and still provides inspiration to artists outside