What is African art history ?

Long before the recording of accounts, the colorful African art history has already been thriving, reshaping itself with the contours of time. Depicting the various and elaborate societies and empires, the history of African art illustrates the vibrant cultures and traditions each group has nurtured with each successive generation.

The earliest forms of surviving examples are the rock carvings and paintings in Namibia, with an age of about 27,000 years old. The artwork of the San people presenting their beliefs in the power of the medicine men or the shamans and their interesting practices and rituals are well scattered throughout the region. In the Drakensberg Mountain, South Africa, alone; over 30,000 known paintings were discovered and were categorized into groups representing different period of ancestral artistry.

The first known sculptures in Africa are by the Nok people of Central Nigeria, dating back from 500 BC to AD 200. The sculptures molded out of clay take the form of human figures and heads.

A very huge gap marks the history of African art after this period. Most of the surviving authentic ancestral masterpieces are crafted between the 14th to the 17th century. This is due to the fact that most of the materials that were available in this bridging period were perishable. The tribes had used various kinds of wood, textiles, plant fibers and leather. And these objects were sooner or later worn and eventually damaged due to their everyday and intensive use in rituals and ceremonies.

The ancient Egyptians belonging to the western tribes have greatly influenced the region's art history. The Egyptian form of art is highly symbolic, as illustrated by the artifacts still being discovered from the monuments and tombs. They symbolize the ethnic group's culture that gives life to mythical gods and goddesses, emphasizes life after death and upholds the knowledge of their ancestors. Due to the Egyptians' resistance to internal change and foreign influence, their part in shaping the history has remained amazingly unvarying for a period of 3000 years.

Around the 10th century, in the regions within the sub-Saharan Africa, a more elaborate way of producing crafts were introduced in the African art history. Among the most ingenious and technically advanced innovation in African artwork include the bronze work of the Igbo-Ukwu. Excavations revealed a great number of intricately detailed bronze sculptures in the form of regalia castings and ritual vessels.

The most significant and among the earliest occurrence of realism is noted in the works of the Yoruba people of Ilé-Ifè. Among their native masterpieces include naturalistic stone, bronze, and terracotta sculptures. The sophisticated artistic culture of the Yoruba was more highlighted on the discoveries of sensational life-sized bronze and terracotta figures between the 1910 and 1930.

With the evolution of the different political systems, religious beliefs, culture and ways of doing everyday things, came the significant and remarkable advancement in African art history. With better tools and more medium to create beautiful objects of religious or functional importance, the number and design of crafts have become boundless. Statues,

paintings, masks, textiles, furniture, pottery, beadwork, baskets and metalwork flourished throughout African art history, making the continent one of the most sought-after destinations among the connoisseurs of art and culture.

West African artisans pass their skills from one generation to the next.

South African art combines indigenous and European influences.

East African art reflects the various communities in the region.

Central African art represents ritual , ceremonial and spiritual functions.

Sudanese art is an extreme and varied one.


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