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What Is African Art?

by:Heng Xing     2020-05-17
African art may be simply defined as art produced by Africans. This brings up the question: does this include art produced by the African diaspora? What about art influenced by African culture but produced by non-Africans? There is no real answer as art cannot be confined and is difficult to define. African art has influenced many artists across many different cultures. Picasso, for instance, was heavily influenced by African art as evidenced by his painting Les Demoiselles d'Avignon. In any case, regardless of its definition, African art on the continent of Africa takes many forms including jewelry, masks, weapons, paintings, textiles and sculptures. The earliest surviving examples are 27,000 year old rock paintings found in Namibia. African art has many uses ranging from decorative to ritual. Most African art has a utilitarian purpose. For example, masks are normally used to represent gods during festivals and ceremonies. However, today masks are also used for home decor. African art takes many forms. Unusual items such as carved wooden pen holders, wine racks and kitchen utensils bring unexpected pleasure and are also useful in every day life. Sculptures are made from various materials such as wood, bronze, clay and stone. Shona sculptures from Zimbabwe are a great example of stone work. In fact, the name 'Zimbabwe' means 'house of stone' and comes from an archeological site built of stone with no mortar. Sculptures may depict people, animals and so on. Unity symbols are a popular depiction in Shona stone sculpture. Paintings are done on various media. Butterfly-wing mosaic paintings are made in West Africa. Canvas paintings are found throughout the continent including paint on canvas and charcoal on canvas. Banana leaf paintings hail from East Africa. Masks are usually made of wood and painted. They are very important in ceremonies and celebrations, and typically depict deities. Mud cloth, kente cloth and chitenge are various types of textile found in Africa. Other fabric types include wax print cloth from west African countries e.g. Ivory Coast and shwe shwe cloth from South Africa. Designs on schwe shwe cloth are made using patterned copper rollers brushed with a weak solution of acid. Cloth is used, of course, to make clothing indigenous to each region. It is also used for other items such as bags and decorative wall hangings. Contrary to popular belief, cloth has been used in Africa for a long time. Cloth fragments from the Igbo tribe have been found in Nigeria dating back to the 9th century BC.
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