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African art

African art

Overview

African art constitutes one of the most diverse legacies on earth. Though many casual observers tend to generalize "traditional" African art, the continent is full of people, societies, and civilizations, each with a unique visual special culture. The definition also includes the art of the African Diaspora
African diaspora
The African diaspora was the movement of Africans and their descendants to places throughout the world—predominantly to the Americas also to Europe, the Middle East and other places around the globe...

s, such as the art of African American
African American
African Americans are citizens or residents of the United States who have at least partial ancestry from any of the native populations of Sub-Saharan Africa and are the direct descendants of enslaved Africans within the boundaries of the present United States...

s. Despite this diversity, there are some unifying artistic themes when considering the totality of the visual culture
Visual culture
Visual Culture as an academic subject is a field of study that generally includes some combination of cultural studies, art history, critical theory, philosophy, and anthropology, by focusing on aspects of culture that rely on visual images.- Overview :...

 from the continent of Africa.
  • Emphasis on the human figure: The human figure has always been the primary subject matter for most African art, and this emphasis even influenced certain European traditions.
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Encyclopedia

African art constitutes one of the most diverse legacies on earth. Though many casual observers tend to generalize "traditional" African art, the continent is full of people, societies, and civilizations, each with a unique visual special culture. The definition also includes the art of the African Diaspora
African diaspora
The African diaspora was the movement of Africans and their descendants to places throughout the world—predominantly to the Americas also to Europe, the Middle East and other places around the globe...

s, such as the art of African American
African American
African Americans are citizens or residents of the United States who have at least partial ancestry from any of the native populations of Sub-Saharan Africa and are the direct descendants of enslaved Africans within the boundaries of the present United States...

s. Despite this diversity, there are some unifying artistic themes when considering the totality of the visual culture
Visual culture
Visual Culture as an academic subject is a field of study that generally includes some combination of cultural studies, art history, critical theory, philosophy, and anthropology, by focusing on aspects of culture that rely on visual images.- Overview :...

 from the continent of Africa.

Thematic Elements

  • Emphasis on the human figure: The human figure has always been the primary subject matter for most African art, and this emphasis even influenced certain European traditions. For example, in the fifteenth century Portugal traded with the Sapi culture near the Ivory Coast in West Africa, who created elaborate ivory saltcellars that were hybrids of African and European designs, most notably in the addition of the human figure (the human figure typically did not appear in Portuguese saltcellars). The human figure may symbolize the living or the dead, may reference chiefs, dancers, or various trades such as drummers or hunters, or even may be an anthropomorphic representation of a god or have other votive function. Another common theme is the inter-morphosis of human and animal.



  • Visual abstraction: African artworks tend to favor visual abstraction over naturalistic representation. This is because many African artworks generalize stylistic norms. Ancient Egyptian art, also usually thought of as naturalistically depictive, makes use of highly abstracted and regimented visual canons, especially in painting, as well as the use of different colors to represent the qualities and characteristics of an individual being depicted.

  • Emphasis on sculpture: African artists tend to favor three-dimensional artworks over two-dimensional works. Even many African paintings or cloth works were meant to be experienced three-dimensionally. House paintings are often seen as a continuous design wrapped around a house, forcing the viewer to walk around the work to experience it fully; while decorated cloths are worn as decorative or ceremonial garments, transforming the wearer into a living sculpture. Distinct from the static form of traditional Western sculpture African art displays animation, a readiness to move.


  • Emphasis on performance art: An extension of the utilitarianism and three-dimensionality of traditional African art is the fact that much of it is crafted for use in performance contexts, rather than in static ones. For example, masks and costumes very often are used in communal, ceremonial contexts, where they are "danced." Most societies in Africa have names for their masks, but this single name incorporates not only the sculpture, but also the meanings of the mask, the dance associated with it, and the spirits that reside within. In African thought, the three cannot be differentiated.

  • Nonlinear scaling: Often a small part of an African design will look similar to a larger part, such as the diamonds at different scales in the Kasai pattern at right. Louis Senghor, Senegal’s first president, referred to this as "dynamic symmetry." William Fagg, the British art historian, compared it to the logarithmic mapping of natural growth by biologist D’Arcy Thompson. More recently it has been described in terms of fractal
    Fractal
    A fractal has been defined as "a rough or fragmented geometric shape that can be split into parts, each of which is a reduced-size copy of the whole," a property called self-similarity...

     geometry.

Area of influence


African art has a long and surprisingly controversial history. Up until recently, the designation "African" was usually only bestowed on the arts of "Black Africa", the peoples living in Sub-Saharan Africa
Sub-Saharan Africa
Sub-Saharan Africa as a geographical term refers to the area of the African continent which lies south of the Sahara. A political definition of Sub-Saharan Africa, instead, covers all African countries which are fully or partially located south of the Sahara...

. The non-black peoples of North Africa
North Africa
North Africa or Northern Africa is the northernmost region of the African continent, linked by the Sahara to Sub-Saharan Africa. Geopolitically, the United Nations definition of Northern Africa includes eight countries or territories; Algeria, Egypt, Libya, Morocco, South Sudan, Sudan, Tunisia, and...

, the people of the Horn of Africa
Horn of Africa
The Horn of Africa is a peninsula in East Africa that juts hundreds of kilometers into the Arabian Sea and lies along the southern side of the Gulf of Aden. It is the easternmost projection of the African continent...

, as well as the art of ancient Egypt
Ancient Egypt
Ancient Egypt was an ancient civilization of Northeastern Africa, concentrated along the lower reaches of the Nile River in what is now the modern country of Egypt. Egyptian civilization coalesced around 3150 BC with the political unification of Upper and Lower Egypt under the first pharaoh...

, generally were not included under the rubric of African art. Recently, however, there has been a movement among African art historians and other scholars to include the visual culture of these areas, since all the cultures that produced them, in fact, are located within the geographic boundaries of the African continent. The notion is that by including all African cultures and their visual culture in African art, laypersons will gain a greater understanding of the continent's cultural diversity. Since there was often a confluence of traditional African, Islamic and Mediterranean cultures, scholars have found that drawing distinct divisions between Muslim areas, ancient Egypt, the Mediterranean and indigenous black African societies makes little sense. Finally, the arts of the people of the African diaspora
African diaspora
The African diaspora was the movement of Africans and their descendants to places throughout the world—predominantly to the Americas also to Europe, the Middle East and other places around the globe...

, prevalent in Brazil
Brazil
Brazil , officially the Federative Republic of Brazil , is the largest country in South America. It is the world's fifth largest country, both by geographical area and by population with over 192 million people...

, the Caribbean
Caribbean
The Caribbean is a crescent-shaped group of islands more than 2,000 miles long separating the Gulf of Mexico and the Caribbean Sea, to the west and south, from the Atlantic Ocean, to the east and north...

 and the southeastern United States
United States
The United States of America is a federal constitutional republic comprising fifty states and a federal district...

, have also begun to be included in the study of African art.

History


The origins of African art lie long before recorded history. African rock art in the Sahara
Sahara
The Sahara is the world's second largest desert, after Antarctica. At over , it covers most of Northern Africa, making it almost as large as Europe or the United States. The Sahara stretches from the Red Sea, including parts of the Mediterranean coasts, to the outskirts of the Atlantic Ocean...

 in Niger
Niger
Niger , officially named the Republic of Niger, is a landlocked country in Western Africa, named after the Niger River. It borders Nigeria and Benin to the south, Burkina Faso and Mali to the west, Algeria and Libya to the north and Chad to the east...

 preserves 6000-year-old carvings. The earliest known sculptures are from the Nok culture of Nigeria
Nigeria
Nigeria , officially the Federal Republic of Nigeria, is a federal constitutional republic comprising 36 states and its Federal Capital Territory, Abuja. The country is located in West Africa and shares land borders with the Republic of Benin in the west, Chad and Cameroon in the east, and Niger in...

, made around 500 BC. Along with sub-Saharan Africa, the cultural arts of the western tribes, ancient Egypt
Ancient Egypt
Ancient Egypt was an ancient civilization of Northeastern Africa, concentrated along the lower reaches of the Nile River in what is now the modern country of Egypt. Egyptian civilization coalesced around 3150 BC with the political unification of Upper and Lower Egypt under the first pharaoh...

ian paintings and 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 developed in sub-Saharan Africa around the 10th century, some of the most notable advancements include the bronzework of Igbo Ukwu and the terracottas and metalworks of Ile Ife Bronze
Bronze
Bronze is a metal alloy consisting primarily of copper, usually with tin as the main additive. It is hard and brittle, and it was particularly significant in antiquity, so much so that the Bronze Age was named after the metal...

 and brass
Brass
Brass is an alloy of copper and zinc; the proportions of zinc and copper can be varied to create a range of brasses with varying properties.In comparison, bronze is principally an alloy of copper and tin...

 castings, often ornamented with ivory
Ivory
Ivory is a term for dentine, which constitutes the bulk of the teeth and tusks of animals, when used as a material for art or manufacturing. Ivory has been important since ancient times for making a range of items, from ivory carvings to false teeth, fans, dominoes, joint tubes, piano keys and...

 and precious stones, became highly prestigious in much of West Africa
West Africa
West Africa or Western Africa is the westernmost region of the African continent. Geopolitically, the UN definition of Western Africa includes the following 16 countries and an area of approximately 5 million square km:-Flags of West Africa:...

, sometimes being limited to the work of court artisans and identified with royalty
Royal family
A royal family is the extended family of a king or queen regnant. The term imperial family appropriately describes the extended family of an emperor or empress, while the terms "ducal family", "grand ducal family" or "princely family" are more appropriate to describe the relatives of a reigning...

, as with the Benin Bronzes
Benin Bronzes
The Benin Bronzes are a collection of more than 3000 brass plaques from the royal palace of the Kingdom of Benin . They were seized by a British force in the Punitive Expedition of 1897 and given to the British Foreign Office...

.

Influence on Western art


Westerners had long misunderstood African art as "primitive." The term carries with it negative connotations of underdevelopment and poverty. Colonization and the slave trade in Africa during the nineteenth century set up a Western understanding hinged on the belief that African art lacked technical ability due to its low socioeconomic status
Socioeconomic status
Socioeconomic status is an economic and sociological combined total measure of a person's work experience and of an individual's or family’s economic and social position in relation to others, based on income, education, and occupation...

.

At the start of the twentieth century, artists like Picasso
Pablo Picasso
Pablo Diego José Francisco de Paula Juan Nepomuceno María de los Remedios Cipriano de la Santísima Trinidad Ruiz y Picasso known as Pablo Ruiz Picasso was a Spanish expatriate painter, sculptor, printmaker, ceramicist, and stage designer, one of the greatest and most influential artists of the...

, Matisse
Henri Matisse
Henri Matisse was a French artist, known for his use of colour and his fluid and original draughtsmanship. He was a draughtsman, printmaker, and sculptor, but is known primarily as a painter...

, Vincent van Gogh
Vincent van Gogh
Vincent Willem van Gogh , and used Brabant dialect in his writing; it is therefore likely that he himself pronounced his name with a Brabant accent: , with a voiced V and palatalized G and gh. In France, where much of his work was produced, it is...

, Paul Gauguin
Paul Gauguin
Eugène Henri Paul Gauguin was a leading French Post-Impressionist artist. He was an important figure in the Symbolist movement as a painter, sculptor, print-maker, ceramist, and writer...

 and Modigliani
Amedeo Modigliani
Amedeo Clemente Modigliani was an Italian painter and sculptor who worked mainly in France. Primarily a figurative artist, he became known for paintings and sculptures in a modern style characterized by mask-like faces and elongation of form...

 became aware of, and inspired by, African art. In a situation where the established avant garde was straining against the constraints imposed by serving the world of appearances, African Art demonstrated the power of supremely well organised forms; produced not only by responding to the faculty of sight, but also and often primarily, the faculty of imagination, emotion and mystical and religious experience. These artists saw in African Art a formal perfection and sophistication unified with phenomenal expressive power. The study of and response to African Art, by artists at the beginning of the twentieth century facilitated an explosion of interest in the abstraction, organisation and reorganisation of forms, and the exploration of emotional and psychological areas hitherto unseen in Western Art. By these means, the status of visual art was changed. Art ceased to be merely and primarily aesthetic, but became also a true medium for philosophic and intellectual discourse, and hence more truly and profoundly aesthetic than ever before.

Influence on Western architecture


European architecture was strongly influenced by African Art. Pioneers like Antonio Sant'Elia
Antonio Sant'Elia
Antonio Sant'Elia was an extremely influential Italian architect.-Life:Antonio Sant'Elia was born in Como, Lombardy. A builder by training, he opened a design office in Milan in 1912 and became involved with the Futurist movement...

, Le Corbusier
Le Corbusier
Charles-Édouard Jeanneret, better known as Le Corbusier , was a Swiss-born French architect, designer, urbanist, writer and painter, famous for being one of the pioneers of what now is called modern architecture. He was born in Switzerland and became a French citizen in 1930...

, Pier Luigi Nervi
Pier Luigi Nervi
Pier Luigi Nervi was an Italian engineer. He studied at the University of Bologna and qualified in 1913. Dr. Nervi taught as a professor of engineering at Rome University from 1946-61...

, Theo Van Doesburg
Theo van Doesburg
Theo van Doesburg was a Dutch artist, practicing in painting, writing, poetry and architecture. He is best known as the founder and leader of De Stijl.-Biography:-Early life:...

 and Erich Mendelsohn
Erich Mendelsohn
Erich Mendelsohn was a Jewish German architect, known for his expressionist architecture in the 1920s, as well as for developing a dynamic functionalism in his projects for department stores and cinemas.-Early life:...

 were also sculptures and painters; Futurist, Rationalist and Expressionist architecture
Expressionist architecture
Expressionist architecture was an architectural movement that developed in Europe during the first decades of the 20th century in parallel with the expressionist visual and performing arts....

 discovered in Africa a new repertoire of proto-symbols; in a formal level, the space is now composed by single forms that do not only refer to human proportions and scale, but to its psychology; surfaces are modelled by geometric patterns. During the 50's, European architects transformed buildings into big-scale sculptures, replacing unnecessary decoration (so criticized by Adolf Loos
Adolf Loos
Adolf Franz Karl Viktor Maria Loos was a Moravian-born Austro-Hungarian architect. He was influential in European Modern architecture, and in his essay Ornament and Crime he repudiated the florid style of the Vienna Secession, the Austrian version of Art Nouveau...

), by integrating textured murals and large bas-reliefs in walls. During the 60's, African Art influenced Brutalism, both in language and symbolism, particularly in the late Le Corbusier
Le Corbusier
Charles-Édouard Jeanneret, better known as Le Corbusier , was a Swiss-born French architect, designer, urbanist, writer and painter, famous for being one of the pioneers of what now is called modern architecture. He was born in Switzerland and became a French citizen in 1930...

, Oscar Niemeyer
Oscar Niemeyer
Oscar Ribeiro de Almeida Niemeyer Soares Filho is a Brazilian architect specializing in international modern architecture...

 and Paul Rudolph
Paul Rudolph (architect)
Paul Marvin Rudolph was an American architect and the dean of the Yale School of Architecture for six years, known for use of concrete and highly complex floor plans...

. The powerful work of John Lautner reminds of artifacts from the Yoruba
Yoruba people
The Yoruba people are one of the largest ethnic groups in West Africa. The majority of the Yoruba speak the Yoruba language...

; the sensual projects of Patricio Pouchulu
Patricio Pouchulu
Patricio Pouchulu is a Futurist contemporary architect.Born in Buenos Aires, he graduated as an Architect at Universidad de Buenos Aires before moving to London to study with Peter Cook at The Bartlett School of Architecture, University College London, where he got a M.Arch...

 honour the bare wooden sculptures of the Dogon
Dogon people
The Dogon are an ethnic group living in the central plateau region of Mali, south of the Niger bend near the city of Bandiagara in the Mopti region. The population numbers between 400,000 and 800,000 The Dogon are best known for their religious traditions, their mask dances, wooden sculpture and...

 and Baoulé
Baoulé
The Baoulé are an Akan people and one of the largest groups in the Ivory Coast. The Baoulé are farmers who live in the eastern side of Côte d'Ivoire . The Baoule people are represented by religion, art, festivals, and equal society . There are more than sixty-five different Akan-speaking ethnic...

. Unlike Europe, African art never established boundaries between body art, painting, sculpture and architecture; thanks to this, Western architects can now extend towards different art expressions.

Traditional art


Traditional art describes the most popular and studied forms of African art which are typically found in museum
Museum
A museum is an institution that cares for a collection of artifacts and other objects of scientific, artistic, cultural, or historical importance and makes them available for public viewing through exhibits that may be permanent or temporary. Most large museums are located in major cities...

 collections.

Wooden mask
Mask
A mask is an article normally worn on the face, typically for protection, disguise, performance or entertainment. Masks have been used since antiquity for both ceremonial and practical purposes...

s, which might either be human or animal or of mythical creatures, are one of the most commonly found forms of art in western Africa. In their original contexts, ceremonial masks are used for celebrations, initiations, crop harvesting, and war preparation. The masks are worn by a chosen or initiated dancer. During the mask ceremony the dancer goes into deep trance, and during this state of mind he "communicates" with his ancestors. The masks can be worn in three different ways: vertically covering the face: as helmets, encasing the entire head, and as crest, resting upon the head, which was commonly covered by material as part of the disguise. African masks often represent a spirit and it is strongly believed that the spirit of the ancestors possesses the wearer. Most African masks are made with wood, and can be decorated with: Ivory
Ivory
Ivory is a term for dentine, which constitutes the bulk of the teeth and tusks of animals, when used as a material for art or manufacturing. Ivory has been important since ancient times for making a range of items, from ivory carvings to false teeth, fans, dominoes, joint tubes, piano keys and...

, animal hair, plant fibers (such as raffia), pigments (like kaolin), stones, and semi-precious gem
Gemstone
A gemstone or gem is a piece of mineral, which, in cut and polished form, is used to make jewelry or other adornments...

s also are included in the masks.

Statues, usually of wood or ivory, are often inlaid with cowrie shells, metal studs and nails. Decorative clothing is also commonplace and comprises another large part of African art. Among the most complex of African textiles is the colorful, strip-woven Kente cloth
Kente cloth
Kente cloth, known locally as nwentoma, is a type of silk and cotton fabric made of interwoven cloth strips and is native to the Akan people of Ghana and the Ivory Coast.- Etymology :...

 of Ghana
Ghana
Ghana , officially the Republic of Ghana, is a country located in West Africa. It is bordered by Côte d'Ivoire to the west, Burkina Faso to the north, Togo to the east, and the Gulf of Guinea to the south...

. Boldly patterned mudcloth is another well known technique.

Contemporary African art



Africa is home to a great and thriving contemporary art
Contemporary art
Contemporary art can be defined variously as art produced at this present point in time or art produced since World War II. The definition of the word contemporary would support the first view, but museums of contemporary art commonly define their collections as consisting of art produced...

 culture. This has been sadly understudied until recently, due to scholars' and art collectors' emphasis on traditional art. Notable modern artists include El Anatsui
El Anatsui
El Anatsui is a Ghanaian sculptor active for much of his career in Nigeria.Anatsui was born in Anyako, and trained at the College of Art, University of Science and Technology, in Kumasi, in central Ghana...

, Marlene Dumas
Marlene Dumas
Marlene Dumas is a South African born artist and painter who lives and works in Amsterdam, The Netherlands. Stressing both the physical reality of the human body and its psychological value, Dumas tends...

, William Kentridge
William Kentridge
William Kentridge is a South African artist best known for his prints, drawings, and animated films. These are constructed by filming a drawing, making erasures and changes, and filming it again. He continues this process meticulously, giving each change to the drawing a quarter of a second to two...

, Karel Nel, Kendell Geers
Kendell Geers
Kendell Geers is an artist, performance artist, musician and film-maker. Geers was born in Johannesburg in 1968.Geers' commonly given birthdate of May 1968 is fictional. Freire Barnes, "", Artist Pension Trust, 4 October 2007. Accessed 15 February 2011. In Venice in 1993, Geers rose to...

, Yinka Shonibare
Yinka Shonibare
Yinka Shonibare, MBE, is a British-Nigerian artist living in the UK. He readily acknowledges physical disability as part of his identity but creates work in which this is just one strand of a far richer weave.-Life and career:...

, Zerihun Yetmgeta, Odhiambo Siangla, Olu Oguibe
Olu Oguibe
Olu Oguibe is an artist and public intellectual. Professor of Art and African-American Studies and interim Director of the Institute for African American Studies at the University of Connecticut, Storrs, Oguibe is a senior fellow of the Vera List Center for Art and Politics at the New School, New...

, Lubaina Himid
Lubaina Himid
Lubaina HimidBorn1954 WebsiteLubaina Himid is a contemporary African artist African artist and Professor of Contemporary Art at the University of Central Lancashire. Her art focuses on themes of cultural history and reclaiming identities...

, and Bili Bidjocka
Bili Bidjocka
Bili Bidjocka is a contemporary Cameroonian artist best known for his installations and sculptures. He was born in Douala, Cameroon, lives in France since the age of 12, and works in Paris, Brussels and New York.- Biography :...

, Henry Tayali
Henry Tayali
Henry Nkole Tayali was a multi-lingual Zambian fine artist, sculptor, printmaker, raconteur and lecturer. He has been described as Zambia's most famous painter, and most revered and pre-eminent artist.-Early life:...

. Art bienniales are held in Dakar
Dakar
Dakar is the capital city and largest city of Senegal. It is located on the Cap-Vert Peninsula on the Atlantic coast and is the westernmost city on the African mainland...

, Senegal
Senegal
Senegal , officially the Republic of Senegal , is a country in western Africa. It owes its name to the Sénégal River that borders it to the east and north...

, and Johannesburg
Johannesburg
Johannesburg also known as Jozi, Jo'burg or Egoli, is the largest city in South Africa, by population. Johannesburg is the provincial capital of Gauteng, the wealthiest province in South Africa, having the largest economy of any metropolitan region in Sub-Saharan Africa...

, South Africa
South Africa
The Republic of South Africa is a country in southern Africa. Located at the southern tip of Africa, it is divided into nine provinces, with of coastline on the Atlantic and Indian oceans...

. Many contemporary African artists are represented in museum collections, and their art may sell for high prices at art auction
Auction
An auction is a process of buying and selling goods or services by offering them up for bid, taking bids, and then selling the item to the highest bidder...

s. Despite this, many contemporary African artists tend to have difficult times finding a market for their work. Many contemporary African arts borrow heavily from traditional predecessors. Ironically, this emphasis on abstraction is seen by Westerners as an imitation of European and American cubist and totemic artists, such as Pablo Picasso
Pablo Picasso
Pablo Diego José Francisco de Paula Juan Nepomuceno María de los Remedios Cipriano de la Santísima Trinidad Ruiz y Picasso known as Pablo Ruiz Picasso was a Spanish expatriate painter, sculptor, printmaker, ceramicist, and stage designer, one of the greatest and most influential artists of the...

, Amedeo Modigliani
Amedeo Modigliani
Amedeo Clemente Modigliani was an Italian painter and sculptor who worked mainly in France. Primarily a figurative artist, he became known for paintings and sculptures in a modern style characterized by mask-like faces and elongation of form...

 and Henri Matisse
Henri Matisse
Henri Matisse was a French artist, known for his use of colour and his fluid and original draughtsmanship. He was a draughtsman, printmaker, and sculptor, but is known primarily as a painter...

, who, in actuality were heavily influenced by traditional African art. This became the first step of evolution in Western art where people started becoming more open-minded and came out of their shell to explore the different aspects of art.

Contemporary African art was pioneered in the 1950s and 1960s in South Africa by artists like Irma Stern
Irma Stern
Irma Stern was a major South African artist who achieved national and international recognition in her lifetime.-Life:...

, Cyril Fradan
Cyril Fradan
Cyril Fradan was a South African artist and designer who worked almost exclusively in acrylic paints incorporating various glazing techniques.- Life and work :...

, Walter Battiss
Walter Battiss
Walter Whall Battiss was a South African artist, generally considered the foremost South African abstract painter and known as the creator of the quirky "Fook Island" concept....

 and through galleries like the Goodman Gallery in Johannesburg. More recently European galleries like the October Gallery in London and collectors like Jean Pigozzi
Jean Pigozzi
Jean Pigozzi is a businessman, art collector, philanthropist and photographer. He was born in Paris as the son of Henri Pigozzi, founder of the French car maker Simca. Pigozzi studied in Paris and at Harvard University before working for the Gaumont Film Company and 20th Century Fox...

 and Gianni Baiocchi in Rome have helped expand the interest in the subject. Exhibitions like the African Pavilion at the 2007 Venice Biennale
Venice Biennale
The Venice Biennale is a major contemporary art exhibition that takes place once every two years in Venice, Italy. The Venice Film Festival is part of it. So too is the Venice Biennale of Architecture, which is held in even years...

 that showcased the Sindika Dokolo African Collection of Contemporary Art have gone a long way to countering many of the myths and prejudices that haunt Contemporary African Art
Contemporary African Art
Contemporary African art is an expression commonly used to defined the sum of styles and national productions of the African continent, the production of African artists, the production of Africa analyzed as a hole, the artistic, cultural and institutional dynamics of the African continent, the...

. The appointment of Nigerian Okwui Enwezor
Okwui Enwezor
Okwui Enwezor is an Igbo Nigerian-born American curator, art critic, writer, poet, educator, and specializing in art history. He lives in New York.- Biography :...

 as artistic director of Documenta
Documenta
documenta is an exhibition of modern and contemporary art which takes place every five years in Kassel, Germany. It was founded by artist, teacher and curator Arnold Bode in 1955 as part of the Bundesgartenschau which took place in Kassel at that time...

 11 and his African centred vision of art jettisoned the careers of countless African artists into the international headlights.

Mali


The art of Mali
Mali
Mali , officially the Republic of Mali , is a landlocked country in Western Africa. Mali borders Algeria on the north, Niger on the east, Burkina Faso and the Côte d'Ivoire on the south, Guinea on the south-west, and Senegal and Mauritania on the west. Its size is just over 1,240,000 km² with...

 is somewhat more abstract than that of Kenya
Kenya
Kenya , officially known as the Republic of Kenya, is a country in East Africa that lies on the equator, with the Indian Ocean to its south-east...

. Artwork focuses significantly on the genital area, whereby the male and female forms are artistically compared through an abstract perception. The penis is also a symbolisation and celebration of the male figure, which is culturally, the dominant sex in Mali.

Bambara


The Bambara people  adapted many artistic traditions and began to create display pieces. Before money was the main drive of creation of their artworks these tribes used their abilities solely as a sacred craft for display of spiritual pride, religious beliefs and display of tribal customs. Example artworks include the Bamana n’tomo mask. Other statues were created for people such at hunters and farmers so other tribe members could leave offerings after long farming seasons or group hunting’s. The stylistic variations in Bambara art are extreme sculptures, masks and headdresses display either stylized or realistic features, and either weathered or encrusted patinas. Until quite recently, the function of Bambara pieces was shrouded in mystery, but in the last twenty years field studies have revealed that certain types of figures and headdresses were associated with a number of the societies that structure Bambara life. During the 1970s a group of approximately twenty figures, masks and TjiWara headdresses belonging to the so-called 'Segou style' were identified. The style is distinct and recognizable by its typical flat faces, arrow-shaped noses, all-over body triangular scarifications and, on the figures, splayed hands.

Masks
There are three major and one minor type of Bambara mask
Mask
A mask is an article normally worn on the face, typically for protection, disguise, performance or entertainment. Masks have been used since antiquity for both ceremonial and practical purposes...

. The first type, used by the N'tomo society, has a typical comb-like structure above the face, is worn during dances and may be covered with cowrie shells. The second type of mask, associated with the Komo society, has a spherical head with two antelope horns on the top and an enlarged, flattened mouth. They are used during dances, but some have a thick encrusted patina acquired during other ceremonies in which libations are poured over them.

The third type has connections with the Nama society and is carved in the form of an articulated bird's head, while the fourth, minor type, represents a stylized animal head and is used by the Kore society. Other Bambara masks are known to exist, but unlike those described above, they cannot be linked to specific societies or ceremonies. Bambara carvers have established a reputation for the zoomorphic headdresses worn by Tji-Wara society members]. Although they are all different, they all display a highly abstract body, often incorporating a zig-zag motif, which represents the sun's course from east to west, and a head with two large horns. Bambara members of the Tji-Wara society wear the headdress while dancing in their fields at sowing time, hoping to increase the crop yield.

Statuettes
Bambara statuettes are primarily used during the annual ceremonies of the Guan society. During these ceremonies, a group of up to seven figures, measuring from 80 to 130 cm in height, are removed from their sanctuaries by the elder members of the society. The sculptures are washed, re-oiled and sacrifices are offered to them at their shrines. These figures - some of which date from between the 14th and 16th centuries - usually display a typical crested coiffure, often adorned with a talisman.

Two of these figures were ascribed great significance: a seated or standing maternity figure called Guandousou - known in the West as 'Bambara Queen' - and a male figure called Guantigui, who usually appears holding a knife. The two figures were surrounded by Guannyeni attendant figures standing or seated in various positions, holding a vessel, or a musical instrument, or their breasts. During the 1970s, numerous fakes from Bamako which were based on these sculptures entered the market. They were produced in Bamako.

Other Bambara figures, called Dyonyeni, are thought to be associated with either the southern Dyo society or the Kwore society. These female or hermaphrodite figures usually appear with geometric features such as large conical breasts and measure between 4o and 85 cm in height. The blacksmith members of the Dyo society used them during dances to celebrate the end of their initiation ceremonies. They were handled, held by dancers and placed in the middle of the ceremonial circle.

Among the corpus of Bambara figures, Boh sculptures are perhaps the best known. These statues represent a highly stylized animal or human figure, and are made of wood which is repeatedly covered in thick layers of earth impregnated with sacrificial materials such as millet, chicken or goat blood, kola nuts and alcoholic drinks. They were employed by the Kono and the Komo societies and served as receptacles for spiritual forces, and could in turn be used for apotropaic purposes.

Each special creative trait a person obtained was seen as a different way to please higher spirits.

Dogon


Dogon art is primarily sculpture. Dogon art revolves around religious values, ideals, and freedoms (Laude, 19). Dogon sculptures are not made to be seen publicly, and are commonly hidden from the public eye within the houses of families, sanctuaries, or kept with the Hogon
Hogon
A Hogon is a spiritual leader in a Dogon village.-Dogon people:The Dogon are an ethnic group in Mali, with some unusual mythology and cultural practices...

 (Laude, 20). The importance of secrecy is due to the symbolic meaning behind the pieces and the process by which they are made.

Themes found throughout Dogon sculpture consist of figures with raised arms, superimposed bearded figures, horsemen, stools with caryatids, women with children, figures covering their faces, women grinding pearl millet, women bearing vessels on their heads, donkeys bearing cups, musicians, dogs, quadruped-shaped troughs or benches, figures bending from the waist, mirror-images, aproned figures, and standing figures (Laude, 46-52). Signs of other contacts and origins are evident in Dogon art. The Dogon people were not the first inhabitants of the cliffs of Bandiagara. Influence from Tellem art is evident in Dogon art because of its rectilinear designs (Laude, 24).

Dogon art is extremely versatile, although common stylistic characteristics – such as a tendency towards stylization – are apparent on the statues. Their art deals with the myths whose complex ensemble regulates the life of the individual. The sculptures are preserved in innumerable sites of worship, personal or family altars, altars for rain, altars to protect hunters, in market. As a general characterization of Dogon statues, one could say that they render the human body in a simplified way, reducing it to its essentials. Some are extremely elongated with emphasis on geometric forms. The subjective impression is one of immobility with a mysterious sense of a solemn gravity and serene majesty, although conveying at the same time a latent movement. Dogon sculpture recreates the hermaphroditic silhouettes of the Tellem, featuring raised arms and a thick patina made of blood and millet beer. The four Nommo couples, the mythical ancestors born of the god Amma, ornament stools, pillars or men’s meeting houses, door locks, and granary doors. The primordial couple is represented sitting on a stool, the base of which depicts the earth while the upper surface represents the sky; the two are interconnected by the Nommo. The seated female figures, their hands on their abdomen, are linked to the fertility cult, incarnating the first ancestor who died in childbirth, and are the object of offerings of food and sacrifices by women who are expecting a child. Kneeling statues of protective spirits are placed at the head of the dead to absorb their spiritual strength and to be their intermediaries with the world of the dead, into which they accompany the deceased before once again being placed on the shrines of the ancestors. Horsemen are remainders of the fact that, according to myth, the horse was the first animal present on earth. The Dogon style has evolved into a kind of cubism: ovoid head, squared shoulders, tapered extremities, pointed breasts, forearms, and thighs on a parallel plane, hairdos stylized by three or four incised lines. Dogon sculptures serve as a physical medium in initiations and as an explanation of the world. They serve to transmit an understanding to the initiated, who will decipher the statue according to the level of their knowledge. Carved animal figures, such as dogs and ostriches, are placed on village foundation altars to commemorate sacrificed animals, while granary doors, stools and house posts are also adorned with figures and symbols.

There are nearly eighty styles of masks, but their basic characteristic is great boldness in the use of geometric shapes, independent of the various animals they are supposed to represent. The structure of a large number of masks is based on the interplay of vertical and horizontal lines and shapes. Another large group has triangular, conic shapes. All masks have large geometric eyes and stylized features. The masks are often polychrome, but on many the color is lost; after the ceremonies they were left on the ground and quickly deteriorated because of termites and other conditions. The Dogon continue an ancient masquerading tradition, which commemorates the origin of death. According to their myths, death came into the world as a result of primeval man’s transgressions against the divine order. Dama memorial ceremonies are held to accompany the dead into the ancestral realm and restore order to the universe. The performance of masqueraders – sometimes as many as 400 – at these ceremonies is considered absolutely necessary. In the case of the dama, the timing, types of masks involved, and other ritual elements are often specific to one or two villages and may not resemble those seen in locations only several miles distant. The masks also appear during baga-bundo rites performed by small numbers of masqueraders before the burial of a male Dogon. Dogon masks evoke the form of animals associated with their mythology, yet their significance is only understood by the highest ranking cult members whose role is to explain the meaning of each mask to a captivated audience.

Kenya


Kenyan art has changed much in the post colonial years. Some painters like the Kenyan artist Joseph Muchina create detailed portraits as well as abstracts which is a rare combined capability. Abstracts are typically both easier and faster to create and so are the more common. As for material, the use of Acrylics and oil is more frequent than watercolors. Oil paint is by far the preferred medium today and it lasts much longer.

The art items in Kenya include sisal baskets, elephant hair bracelets, Maasai bead jewelry, musical instruments, silver and gold jewelry, soapstone sculptures, wooden carvings, tribal masks, Maasai figurines, paintings, prints and sculptures. These art items are available in the arts and craft markets and shops throughout the main tourist centers of Kenya.

Cloth and Fabric in Kenya also form interesting art items. The cloth and fabric available in Kenya are batik cloth, kangas (women's wraparound skirts) with beautiful patterns and even Kenyan proverbs printed on them and kikois (type of sarong for men) that come in many different colors and textiles. These are good art items to take home from your Kenyan trip.

African jewelry has been quite popular for centuries in the world market. Kenya offers rare pieces of African jewelry containing cowry shells. Kenya is also known for its soapstone carvings found in Western Kenya. It is the Gusii and Abagusii ethnic groups who hand carve these Kisii stones into exquisite pieces of Kenyan art.

Guinea


Guinea
Guinea
Guinea , officially the Republic of Guinea , is a country in West Africa. Formerly known as French Guinea , it is today sometimes called Guinea-Conakry to distinguish it from its neighbour Guinea-Bissau. Guinea is divided into eight administrative regions and subdivided into thirty-three prefectures...

ns have a rich cultural heritage. Performances of music and dance mark special occasions and holidays. Fula
Fula people
Fula people or Fulani or Fulbe are an ethnic group spread over many countries, predominantly in West Africa, but found also in Central Africa and Sudanese North Africa...

  musicians play handcrafted flutes, drums, and string instruments, and they use calabashes (gourds) to beat out rhythms. In Malinke traditional music, men drum and play balafon
Balafon
The balafon is a resonated frame, wooden keyed percussion idiophone of West Africa; part of the idiophone family of tuned percussion instruments that includes the xylophone, marimba, glockenspiel, and the vibraphone...

s (xylo-phones made from wood and gourds). Women wearing elaborate boubous dance with graceful arm movements, suggesting butterflies.

Drumming is a major Guinean art form. Apprentices learn from masters over a period of years. During Sékou Touré's time, the government supported the arts. Guineans produced some of Africa's finest theater and folklore ballets in international competitions.

Guineans produce fine literature. Malinke and Fula traditional griots , or praise-singers, are poets who recite and pass on past traditions through story and song. Authors such as the Malinke Camara Laye
Camara Laye
Camara Laye was an African writer from Guinea. During his time at college he wrote The African Child , a novel based loosely on his own childhood. He would later become a writer of many essays and was a foe of the government of Guinea...

 have produced writings of international acclaim in French. His novel, The African Child (L'Enfant Noir), tells of a child growing up in the Malinke homeland. The child's father is a goldsmith, and he learns about spirits and taboos from his parents. The novel is often used in French and literature classes at American universities.

Gabon


Literature. Much of Gabon's literature is strongly influenced by France, as many authors received their schooling there. Writers use French, newspapers are in French, and television is broadcast in French. Radio programs use both French and local languages, however, and there is mounting interest in the history of Gabon's peoples.

Graphic Arts. The Fang make masks and basketry, carvings, and sculptures. Fang art is characterized by organized clarity and distinct lines and shapes. Bieri, boxes to hold the remains of ancestors, are carved with protective figures. Masks are worn in ceremonies and for hunting. The faces are painted white with black features. Myene art centers around Myene rituals for death. Female ancestors are represented by white painted masks worn by the male relatives. The Bekota use brass and copper to cover their carvings. They use baskets to hold ancestral remains. Tourism is rare in Gabon, and unlike in other African countries, art is not spurred on by the prospect of capitalism.

Botswana


In the northern part of Botswana, tribal women in the villages of Etsha and Gumare
Gumare
Gumare or Gomare is a rural village located in the North-West District of Botswana, near the Okavango Delta. The population of Gumare was 6,067 in 2001 census.Four separate government institutions manage Ngamiland District:# District Council;...

 are noted for their skill at crafting basket
Basket
A basket is a container which is traditionally constructed from stiff fibres, which can be made from a range of materials, including wood splints, runners, and cane. While most baskets are made from plant materials, other materials such as horsehair, baleen, or metal wire can be used. Baskets are...

s from Mokola Palm and local dye
Dye
A dye is a colored substance that has an affinity to the substrate to which it is being applied. The dye is generally applied in an aqueous solution, and requires a mordant to improve the fastness of the dye on the fiber....

s. 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.

The oldest evidence ancient paintings from both Botswana and South Africa
South Africa
The Republic of South Africa is a country in southern Africa. Located at the southern tip of Africa, it is divided into nine provinces, with of coastline on the Atlantic and Indian oceans...

. Depictions of hunting, both animal and human figures were made by the Khoisan
Khoisan
Khoisan is a unifying name for two ethnic groups of Southern Africa, who share physical and putative linguistic characteristics distinct from the Bantu majority of the region. Culturally, the Khoisan are divided into the foraging San and the pastoral Khoi...

 (Kung San!/Bushmen
Bushmen
The indigenous people of Southern Africa, whose territory spans most areas of South Africa, Zimbabwe, Lesotho, Mozambique, Swaziland, Botswana, Namibia, and Angola, are variously referred to as Bushmen, San, Sho, Barwa, Kung, or Khwe...

 dating before civilization over 20,000 years old within the Kalahari desert.

Côte d'Ivoire



The Baoulé
Baoulé
The Baoulé are an Akan people and one of the largest groups in the Ivory Coast. The Baoulé are farmers who live in the eastern side of Côte d'Ivoire . The Baoule people are represented by religion, art, festivals, and equal society . There are more than sixty-five different Akan-speaking ethnic...

, the Senoufo and the Dan 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
Caricature
A caricature is a portrait that exaggerates or distorts the essence of a person or thing to create an easily identifiable visual likeness. In literature, a caricature is a description of a person using exaggeration of some characteristics and oversimplification of others.Caricatures can be...

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

Côte d'Ivoire also has modern painters and illustrators. Gilbert G. Groud
Gilbert G. Groud
Gilbert G. Groud is a painter, illustrator and author from Toulépleu, Côte d'Ivoire.- Biography :He was born around 1956 in a little village close to Toulépleu in Côte d'Ivoire. He had 23 siblings, not all of whom were born to the same mother since his father was polygamous. 7 siblings were of the...

 criticizes the ancient beliefs in black magic
Black magic
Black magic is the type of magic that draws on assumed malevolent powers or is used with the intention to kill, steal, injure, cause misfortune or destruction, or for personal gain without regard to harmful consequences. As a term, "black magic" is normally used by those that do not approve of its...

, as held with the spiritual masks mentioned above, in his illustrated book Magie Noire
Magie Noire
"Magie Noire" is a comics series by the Ivorian painter and author Gilbert G. Groud. It deals with the dangers of black magic in Africa....

.

Tanzania and Mozambique


The art of the Makonde must be subdivided into different areas. The Makonde are known as master carvers throughout East Africa, and their statuary that can be found being sold in tourist markets and in museums alike. They traditionally carve household objects, figures and masks. Since the 1950s years the socalled Modern Makonde Art has been developed. An essential step was the turning to abstract figures, mostly spirits (Shetani) that play a special role. Makonde are also part of the important contemporary artists of Africa today. An outstanding position is taken by George Lilanga.

Egypt


Persisting for 3,000 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
26th century BC
The 26th century BC is a century which lasted from the year 2600 BC to 2501 BC .-Events:*c. 2900 BC – 2334 BC: Mesopotamian wars of the Early Dynastic period continue....

 the maturity of Egyptian carving reached a peak it did not reach again for another 1,500 years during the reign of Rameses II
Ramesses II
Ramesses II , referred to as Ramesses the Great, was the third Egyptian pharaoh of the Nineteenth dynasty. He is often regarded as the greatest, most celebrated, and most powerful pharaoh of the Egyptian Empire...

.

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.

See also


  • Culture of Africa
    Culture of Africa
    The culture of Africa encompasses and includes all cultures within the continent of Africa. There is a political or racial split between North Africa, and Sub-Saharan Africa, which is in turn divided into a great number of ethnic cultures...

  • African folk art
    African folk art
    African folk art consists of a wide variety of items: household objects, metal objects, toys, textiles, masks, and wood sculpture, among others.-Metal objects:...

  • Tribal art
    Tribal art
    Tribal art is an umbrella term used to describe visual arts and material culture of indigenous peoples. Also known as Ethnographic art, or, controversially, Primitive Art, tribal arts have historically been collected by Western anthropologists, private collectors, and museums, particularly...

  • Art of Zimbabwe
    Art of Zimbabwe
    Zimbabwean art includes decorative esthetics applied to many aspects of life, including art objects as such, utilitarian objects, objects used in religion, warfare, in propaganda, and in many other spheres. Within this broad arena, Zimbabwe has several identifiable categories of art...

  • African traditional masks

Sources

  • A History of Art in Africa (2001) Monica Blackmun Visonà et al. Prentice Hall, New York ISBN 0-13-442187-6

External links