The History of African Art

Only available on StudyMode
  • Download(s) : 226
  • Published : September 6, 2012
Open Document
Text Preview
African art constitutes one of the most diverse legacies on earth. Though many casual observers tend to generalize African art, the continent is full of peoples, societies, and civilizations, each with a unique visual special culture. The definition also includes the art of the African Americans. Despite this diversity, there are some unifying artistic themes when considering the totality of the visual culture from the continent of Africa. The origins of African art lie long before recorded history. 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. The non-black peoples of North Africa, the people of the Horn of Africa, as well as the art of ancient Egypt, 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, prevalent in Brazil, the Caribbean and the southeastern United States, have also begun to be included in the study of African art. The origins of African art lie long before recorded history. African rock art in the Sahara in Niger preserves 6000-year-old carvings. 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 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 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 artisans and identified with royalty, as with the Benin Bronzes. The human figure has always been a 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 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. 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: African artists tend to favor three-dimensional artworks over two-dimensional works. Even many African...
tracking img