AFRICAN ART:Arts-and Expression of Africa

What is African Art?

The categories of African Art

African art can be categorized into the following: masks, statues, tools and utensils, personal ornaments, instruments, money, weapons, and textiles. Masks were mainly used for rituals although masks for entertainment also existed in Africa. Statues were usually kept in shrines with ancestor figures, royal ornaments, or toys. Various utensils include seats, pillows, beds, terra cotta pots, ladles, combs, spoons, gold weights, grave boards, prayer materials and grave-posts. Personal ornaments include rings, bracelets, and anklets. Weapons are usually knives, or shields. Musical instruments include drums, horns, harps, and marimba. Money was of differing size or characteristic shape which was often different between each tribe. Moreover, textiles have various and unique styles specific to each tribe.

The mask represents African Art

Among interesting African Art, the mask is the most specific, richly decorated and unique object. The variety of African masks is amazing. A wealth of imagination is embodied in each mask. Animal or human motifs which are often difficult to see in the world take on a multitude of interesting forms as African masks. In the history of art, most regions usually have naturalistic representations in their art. The Lascaux wall paintings drawn by Cro-Magnon man 15,000 years ago even showed realistic interpretations of nature. Even though materials or methods of forming the object vary, African masks are unique in form and are not seen anywhere else except Africa.

From 6000 years ago to the present

Images of people wearing masks were drawn on cave walls at Tassili n’Ajjer in south Algeria in 4000BC. These masks are similar to the ones the Gere or Wobe use in the Republic of Cote d’ Ivories. However, the people wearing the masks do not appear to be the ancestors of Gere or Wobe. When the Saharan Desert was green grassland, evidently these masks had existed. And yet the appearance of these masks is such that they could be modern creations. Masks, as the evidence from 6000 years ago indicates, were probably made from wood which was likely to decay in the humid weather conditions. Therefore, the only evidence that masks existed is the Tassili n’Ajjer wall illustrations. Today we have various masks that are similar to masks on the wall and illustrate these people’s beliefs in animism and have been used as a means to communicate with their Gods or ancestors for 6000 years. We can assume their hopes and desires and their artistic imagination led to the creation of numerous kinds of masks.

Deformed shapes are beautiful

Spiritual life is essential in Africa. Realistic and symmetric forms are not considered to represent “BEAUTY”. Therefore, deformed shapes largely represent their spiritual vision and they consider deformation to be their realistic beauty. This is very similar to the Japanese aesthetic vision.
When we see seats and pillows which were their daily utensils, these tools have tremendous ideas, usages, or shapes from each tribe. Moreover, even though the same tribal members made similar shaped seats, they would never be exactly the same. A hand-made seat exhibits human warmth through a variety of expressions.

The part of the African Art Museum collection is
exhibited in this section.

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