African art in the professional literature and the museum
world denotes the traditional, visual art, which is produced
by the many different peoples in sub-Saharan Africa. Art in
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
connections; it is dealt with here in articles on individual
countries as well as under Islamic art. The many and very
different peoples south of the Sahara, on the other hand,
despite their differences, have been perceived as the real
and original Africa, their culture as characteristically
African and their art as the art of Africa.
Africa's visual arts include many different art forms.
Personal decoration is of great importance and has been
developed into refined forms in tattooing, body painting,
jewelry and costume art. In addition to the purely
decorative function, it often has important social
Countryaah is a website offering country profiles
and lists of of countries in the continent of Africa.
Weaving is performed in many different techniques and
materials. Complicated pattern weaving is particularly
prevalent in West Africa, for example in Ghana in the Ashtei
people's kente weaves. The Cuban people of the Democratic
Republic of Congo are known for their geometrically
patterned textiles of raffia bast with "plush" embroidery.
Examples of this technique reached as early as the 1600's.
to Europe from Angola. Application is used for the
production of figurative motifs in the Fon Kingdom in Benin
and in geometric patterns of Central African peoples. A
number of different dyeing methods are used to make textile
patterns: Batik, binding and stencil techniques have
recently become widespread in large parts of West Africa and
are performed, for example, by Yoruba people in Nigeria. A
special etching technique is characteristic of the Dogon and
Bamana peoples of Mali. Fabric prints are made by ashanti
Painting is the art that is the oldest evidence of in
Africa. In the rock massifs of the Sahara, for example in
Tassili n'Ajjer, and in dry southern Africa, rock paintings
and carvings with animal and human motifs, made by hunters
and nomads, have been found. Some of these paintings are
believed to have been made 3000-4000 years before our era.
Some are possibly even older, and in South Africa there are
examples of rock paintings made by San people in the 1800's.
with Dutch immigrants as a motive.
House decoration in the form of exterior and interior
murals occurs in many parts of Africa. These can be
figurative paintings with religious motifs or geometric
patterns in interaction with the architecture. An example of
the latter is found among ndebele people in South Africa.
Ceramics are made and used by most African peoples. The
pottery can be quite simple, but the pottery can also,
especially when it comes to things for ritual use, assume
sculptural forms. Examples of human-shaped pottery are known
from the peoples of northern Nigeria and from the ngbetu
peoples of the northern part of the Democratic Republic of
Congo. An example of non-figurative sculptural pottery is
the ritual pottery made by the Igbo peoples of eastern
Real sculptures of solid fired clay appear scattered over
a larger area in 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 the one of Africa's art forms that has
gained the most attention in the outside world, not least
after French and German artists in particular were inspired
by it in the early 1900's. (see primitivism).
The African sculpture belongs to the farming communities
of West and Central Africa. But there are also examples of
sculptural traditions in East and South Africa.
In addition to fired 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 motifs are humans and
animals. The image is frontal. The expression varies from
idealized naturalism, with a highlight in Ifekunst's
terracotta and bronze sculptures, to extreme stylization, as
it occurs, for example, in the tomb figures of the Kota
people, whose head and body unite in a mesh-like shape. The
sculpture is closely linked to religion, and it plays a
central role in society everywhere. It is a means of gaining
contact with gods, spirits and ancestors, and at the same
time it is a tool for harnessing the power they possess.
The shapes and roles of the sculpture differ from people
to people. Pedigrees represent the ancestors. They are close
to the gods and will, if you bring them sacrifices, speak
for the living and provide them with protection. The gods
themselves are rarely depicted in the sculpture, but it does
occur, for example, among the Yoruba people in Nigeria.
Sculptures to glorify deceased rulers are known from the
Cuban 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 akuaba
figures of the Akan people, who are 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
Congolese people in the Democratic Republic of Congo and
Masks can appear in many different contexts and
functions. They can produce spirits and ancestors or parody
the living. Traditionally, they are often worn by persons in
public office who, with the help of the mask, achieve
anonymity, while at the same time being able to perform
their task with the mask's authority. Many masks are
associated with religious and political societies and are
used in their inauguration ceremonies.
The wooden sculptures are made by male artists. Their
social position varies greatly in the different societies.
In northern West Africa, they often belong to the smithy,
which has a low social status but is feared for its magical
ability. Elsewhere, for example among the Dan peoples of
Liberia and 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 characteristic style.
Due to climatic conditions and insect infestations,
African wood sculptures rarely reach old age, and it is
therefore generally difficult to follow stylistic
developments over an extended period of time. However,
wooden sculptures from cemeteries of the Dogon people in
Mali have been carbon-14 dated to the time around the year
But the oldest known African sculptures are of more
durable materials. Terracotta figures from Nigeria are
mentioned above. At Nok in the northern part of the country,
terracotta figures have been found from a period, beginning
400-500 years before our era. They bear great resemblance to
12th-century terracotta sculptures, found at archeological
excavations in the Yoruba people's holy city of Ife, and to
contemporary Yoruba wood carvings from southwestern Nigeria.
In Ife, a tradition of bronze casting developed in
continuation of or in parallel with the art of terracotta,
which according to oral tradition formed the basis of
Beninhoff's bronze art. It was still in use when an English
penal expedition in 1897 conquered the city. Both in Ife and
in Benin, there are examples of metal sculptures, which are
related to the oldest known African metal sculptures, found
at archeological excavations in Igbo Ukwu in eastern
Nigeria. They date to 800-t. Such artistic continuity and
coherence has so far not been demonstrated in art elsewhere
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 the demand from collectors have kept alive
traditions whose local preconditions no longer exist. Often,
however, the new buyers influence 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 significant Danish collection of African art can
be found at the National Museum, where Central African art
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 was created by the sculptor Poul Holm Olsen, mainly in
the 1960's and 1970's. It is today owned by Holstebro Art
Africa modern art
Art in the new African states has deep roots in the
ancient art. The European and American interest has kept
alive the traditional African art, but has also helped to
change the conditions for its development.
The art of woodcarving is now also cultivated with sales
to tourists in mind, such as the so-called airport art, and
other forms of expression survive by export production and
by supplying a growing art market, especially in the big
But influences from Western culture have also shaped 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
Christian and Islamic religion.
African artists have traveled and studied in Europe, the
United States and the Soviet Union, and they have brought
home impulses and techniques from individual countries and
from international currents such as Impressionism,
Expressionism, Social Realism and Abstract Art.
A significant driving force for art is urbanization, as
the public's and businesses' need for decoration and signage
has helped to create a naive folk art, which is called
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