Art from South Africa is a very interesting mixture .
South African art is a stunning example of primitive peoples creating exceptional paintings and engravings depicting an inexplicable world. Like all African art, the aesthetic value of the pieces is where the true value lies.
The earliest form of art from this region are the rock paintings and engravings
discovered in the eastern region. It's believed these stone pictures were used during religious or healing rituals. Other impressive art includes painted ostrich eggshells and stone ruins.
Amazingly, terracotta heads were found that date back to the 6th through 8th century A.D. The absolute purpose of these heads remains a mystery, but they clearly indicate the ceremonial aspect of some African art. Unlike traditional sculptures which can be destroyed by insects and decay, the terracotta heads survived because the famous African termites only eat wood.
South Africa, as most people know, experienced a colonial era that was followed by apartheid. The colonial invasion and apartheid had a profound influence on art from this region beginning in the 1800s. The traditional African art which was rooted in African aesthetics combined with European realism to form unique pieces admired around the world.
For many years, art from this region remained unrecognized as a serious individualistic genre, because it was too close to traditional European art. Over time though, colonial artists began to create paintings and sculptures that were clearly African based. The early colonial African artists were Thomas Baines, Jan Volschenk and Anton Van Wouw.
There is no one description that fits South African art. It is as primitive as the stone paintings and as complex as expressionism. During apartheid, the art expanded to include all forms of art ranging from traditional to abstract. Later artists include JH Pierneef, Maud Sumner and Jean Welz to name a few.
It's interesting to note that European residents in the region began to find traditional art to be somewhat stifling. The African continent is a diverse landscape of regions, peoples and ideas. It only makes sense that artists would want to encompass that that sense of vastness and diversity in their art through experimentation.
South African art cannot be defined by a single art style or form. It's reflective of a complicated and varied history that embraces both Africa and Europe. The art represents a collective memory and includes paintings, sculptures, resistance art, European art and many other kinds of art. It also shows the cultural beliefs and values of the people.
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