Africa Arts

Africa Arts

Africa – arts

Africa Arts 2

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 for a list of African acronyms.

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 functions.

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 Nigeria.

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.

According to, 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.

African Countries

Country Literacy men (percent) Literacy among young people (percent)
Algeria 82.6 (2008) 93.8 (2008)
Angola 80.0 (2014) 77.4 (2014)
Benin 45.0 (2012) 52.5 (2012)
Botswana 86.7 (2014) 97.7 (2014)
Burkina Faso 44.4 (2014) 50.1 (2014)
Burundi 69.7 (2014) 79.6 (2014)
Central African Republic 50.7 (2010) 36.4 (2010)
Comoros 56.5 (2012) 71.6 (2012)
Egypt 82.6 (2013) 92.0 (2013)
Equatorial Guinea 97.3 (2014) 98.2 (2014)
Ivory Coast 50.7 (2014) 53.0 (2014)
Eritrea 75.1 (2008) 87.0 (2008)
Ethiopia 57.3 (2015) 55.0 (2007)
Gabon 84.9 (2012) 88.5 (2012)
Gambia 51.4 (2013) 60.8 (2013)
Ghana 78.3 (2010) 85.7 (2010)
Guinea 43.6 (2014) 46.3 (2014)
Guinea-Bissau 62.2 (2014) 60.4 (2014)
Cameroon 78.3 (2010) 80.6 (2010)
Cape Verde 91.7 (2015) 98.1 (2015)
Kenya 83.8 (2014) 86.5 (2014)
Congo-Brazzaville 86.4 (2011) 80.9 (2011)
Congo-Kinshasa 88.5 (2016) 85.0 (2016)
Lesotho 67.7 (2014) 86.6 (2014)
Liberia 60.8 (2007) 49.1 (2007)
Libya 93.9 (2004) 99.6 (2004)
Madagascar 75.0 (2012) 76.8 (2012)
Malawi 69.8 (2015) 72.9 (2015)
Mali 45.1 (2015) 49.4 (2015)
Morocco 80.4 (2012) 91.2 (2012)
Mauritania 57.4 (2007) 56.1 (2007)
Mauritius 95.4 (2016) 98.1 (2011)
Mozambique 70.8 (2015) 70.5 (2015)
Namibia 88.6 (2011) 94.4 (2011)
Niger 39.1 (2012) 39.8 (2012)
Nigeria 61.3 (2008) 66.4 (2008)
Rwanda 76.1 (2014) 85.1 (2014)
São Tomé and Príncipe 95.0 (2012) 96.7 (2012)
Senegal 52.8 (2013) 55.9 (2013)
Seychelles 93.5 (2010) 99.0 (2010)
Sierra Leone 41.3 (2013) 57.0 (2013)
Sudan 59.8 (2008) 65.8 (2008)
South Africa 95.4 (2015) 99.0 (2015)
South Sudan 34.8 (2008) 36.7 (2008)
Tanzania 83.2 (2015) 85.8 (2015)
Chad 31.3 (2016) 30.8 (2016)
Togo 77.3 (2015) 84.3 (2015)
Tunisia 86.1 (2014) 96.2 (2014)
Uganda 79.1 (2012) 83.7 (2012)
Zambia 88.7 (2010) 88.7 (2010)
Zimbabwe 89.2 (2014) 90.4 (2014)

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.

Africa Arts

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 Africa.

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 signwriter art.

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 Africa.