Dictionary of

Art  &  Artist





African art.
The term refers only to black African art and particularly to sculpture and carving (mostly in wood) from the vast area surrounding the Niger and Congo basins. Ancient Egyptian art and bushman painting from southern Africa are thus excluded. Distinction must be made between the courtly art (especially from lfe and Benin) which tended to be naturalistic and commemorative, and made in durable materials (stone, terracotta, bronze, hardwood); and the conceptual, often abstract art consisting mainly of wood-carvings (masks, ancestor figures) used during religious ceremonies. It was work of the 2nd kind which made its impact on Western artists at the beginning ot the 20th e.

All the tribal artists were inspired by similar beliefs. In African 'animist' religions 'being' is regarded as vital energy and not solely as the living state. Every existing thing has a vital force or energy and by understanding and correctly approaching these forces man can use them, but in order to ensure the continuance and increase of this vital energy in the tribe and in himself he must perform religious rituals at regular intervals and on set occasions. Masks and statues are used in communication with the spirit world, in the cult of the ancestors and as protective charms in the direct exploitation of the vital energy in the world.

The artist works within a formal convention to embody in his carving some concept related to the subject and to give his carving a dynamic power, so that it can be used to enlist and generate energy. He therefore does not aim to reproduce his subject realistically nor is bis 1st intention to produce 'beautiful' forms. The head of the statue is often disproportionately large owing to the belief that it is the seat of the life force and is therefore more important than the body. Statuettes are almost always made from a single block from a tree, thus leading to elongation of the body with the arms held close to the sides, and foreshortening of the features. Ashanti, Bakuba, Baluba, Bambara, Ba(o)ule, Dahomey, Dogon, Fang, Mende, Nok and Yoruba.


African Masks



Discuss Art

Please note: site admin does not answer any questions. This is our readers discussion only.

| privacy