A good deal of Tribal art from pre-historic times up to the present have emerged from the African continent.
And a study of art out of Africa will tell you that the earliest sculpture forms are dated around 500BC and come from Nigeria.
Sculptures are always made from various materials such as wood or stone, and Shona sculptures from Zimbabwe are a typical example of exquisite stonework. Art from Africa has often been connected to tribal and ritual ceremonies. Many objects created in ancient times were not looked upon as aesthetic accomplishments, and no efforts were made to preserve them. Foreign colonization of most countries in sub-Saharan Africa did little to change this state of affairs and African art continued to go undocumented.
Rock Paintings and Masks Excellent Examples
Of Art from African rock, paintings are the oldest known Tribal art form, and excellent examples of this are to be found in the Drakensberg Mountains of South Africa where thousands of rock paintings have been discovered and which depict day to day life of Africans from bygone eras.
These rock paintings were an artistic expression, a means of communicating a certain way of life, and during times of unrest, painters used their art to portray scenes of disharmony and injustices.
Shell beads estimated to be about 75,000 years old, and in the form of a necklace have also been found in the Blombos Cave in South Africa.
The earliest known sculptures are terracotta pottery heads from the Nok culture of Nigeria. Among fascinating art from Africa, the mask is most fascinating, always lavishly decorated for rituals and ceremonies. They have always been an important part of the traditional culture and art of the people of Sub-Saharan Africa. A special status is attributed to those wearing the masks in ceremonies.
An Influence on European and Western Art
The diversity of the art coming out of Africa depended much on the geographic regions and the resources available in that particular area. For instance, the Ashanti of Ghana made use of gold and bronze while the Bambara of West Africa were renowned for their highly ornate ceremonial head-dresses. During the 19th and 20th centuries, this particular art type was discovered by modern artists who appreciated its simplistic but effective qualities.
Artists like Matisse, Picasso and Derain became enraptured by this art form, and a new fascination in abstract art began to emerge, causing them to move away from the naturalism of Western art and embrace Cubism. Picasso himself began to collect tribal sculptures which were starting to be found in Paris and he also started introducing his African masks into his artworks such as his white sculpture, 'Head of a Woman'.
A Renewed Interest in Tribal Art
Art from Africa has contributed immensely to the development of modern art movements like Cubism, Fauvism and Abstract Expressionism. Today there has been a marked increase in collecting tribal and contemporary African art, and museums and galleries are bringing this art form to the forefront. Historians are looking with renewed interest at the meaning behind some of the pieces and the people who created them.
By Kenth A Bender