African Art is a term typically used for the art of Sub Saharian. Africa has a history of art that is unmatched anywhere else in the world. The art forms found on the African continent are as diverse as the African people themselves. Numerous tribes and groups from all over the continent contributed to African art history with unique works of art.
Some general unifying characteristics of African art may be identified...
There are seven major types of art produced in Africa that are widely recognized...
The following decorative art forms can also be added...
Historically, the most important aspect of an African piece of art has been its function:
African wood carving: 19th - 20th century
In Africa, south of the Sahara, wood is the natural material for carving. In the 20th century sculpture in wood is still very much a living tradition. Examples from the 19th century have been preserved in reasonable number, largely by the efforts of collectors. But earlier work has crumbled irretrievably, eaten by ants or rotted by damp.
Even so, the body of art surviving to us in this tradition is immensely rich. It powerfully suggests how much has been lost.
It is difficult to imagine how African tribal sculptors have viewed their own work, but they have certainly not seen it as art in the self-conscious western manner of recent centuries.
Tribal carving is done for a clear and practical purpose. A figure may represent an ancestor, destined to stand in a shrine. A mask may be intended for use by a shaman just once a year in a special dance. A post may be designed to prop up a chief's verandah or to form part of a palisade round his house. An elaborate chair is likely to be for the chief himself to sit on. All of them will be better if carved in a dramatic or propitious way.
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|Tribal art and cubism: 20th century
|Whatever the reason for the range of tribal art, the result is an unrivalled display of the power of the imagination. The basic subject, as in western sculpture, is the human body. But the tribal sculptor is liberated from the straitjacket of realism.
His ingredients may be limited to the parts of the body, but he constantly reassembles them in new dimensions and relationships. From a central axis of eyes, nose, mouth, navel and genital organs, to the peripheral cast list of hair, ears, arms, breasts, legs and buttocks, there is no predicting which of these elements will take the starring roles in any one production. Startling imbalance is restored to balance by the force of strong design.
|It is hard to know whether a particular image may be intended to seem sad or terrifying (or neither, or even nothing), for this is a subjective matter on which an outsider may often be mistaken. But in these carvings there is no mistaking the energy and playfulness with which the human body is turned, by confident distortion, into such a gallery of wonderful creatures.
It is not surprising that Picasso, the most playful genius of the 20th century, is inspired by these fragmentations of dull reality to find a new direction of his own in cubism.
1. Resemblance to a human figure for purpose of conveying ideas.
2. Luminosity representing shiny and unflawed skin.
3. Youthfulness representing vitality and fertility.
4. Reserved demeanor representing a person in control.
5. Balance and proportion through material choices.