African art

It is to the African art as one of the most unique arts of the world, since much of its artistic expression, is fraught with mystery magical-religious aspects that occur in the region.

Related topics

Indian art , Japanese art ,  pre – Columbian art , African masks

What is African art?

African art is known as the set of aesthetic expressions historically elaborated on the African continent . More specifically, in the so-called black Africa. They are manifestations with strong animistic and magical-religious components . Although their styles are very different from each other, they have common roots. They value the spiritual and the emotional. In addition, they are used as a complement to the rituals and social activities of the communities.

  • Characteristics of African art
  • Origin
  • History
  • Types of African art
  • African modern art
  • African primitive art
  • Painting
  • Sculpture
  • Architecture
  • Importance of African art
  • Representatives
  • Plays

Characteristics of African art

The African continent is large. Great in extension of territories, but also in culture. It is difficult to capture African culture without falling into simplifications. We say this because, as is well known, it is something marked by diversity. There is no African culture . There are many. There is variety. And, having a variety of cultures , we also have an artistic variety . And what is art, if not a sign of culture?

African art would consist of, whatever the redundancy, all the arts made in that region. It is more an appellation of geographical organization , than of cultural expression. And yet, distinctive elements of these arts can be rescued that differentiate them from other continents. African art is, above all, something made especially in the south of the Sahara . It has a strong animistic component. Like much of the cultural manifestations of the continent, it is closely connected with magical-religious thought. It places great value on spirits and ancestors. This reaches a point where the artistic expressions of this territory obey for practical purposes: they were made to accompany the rituals or social activities of the community.

Let’s see a little more about this peculiar way of making art …


Like much of civilization , the cradle of these arts is born in South Africa . One can locate in this territory the first artistic manifestations of the continent . They are rock arts that date back more than 25,000 years ago . It is common to see scenes in these paintings that represent the daily life of the moment. For example, hunting scenes.


It was, however, in the Sahara prior to its desertification where the most complex arts are seen. They date between 5000 and 3000 BC. They are arts that reflect a bit of the hunter’s life of that time. However, they also came to reflect another part of the incipient livestock life. All this lasted until the Sahara was desertified. At this point in their history , the natives migrated to the East, where the settlements of future civilizations began.

Types of African art

In essence, we can see that the African arts were subdivided into types. Here are some of them:

  • Painting
  • Sculpture
  • Architecture
  • More expensive

On this point we will discuss later.

African modern art

The influence of the foreigner in the art of the continent has been considerable. This has become, above all, in the religious order. The Christian and Islamic religion has participated in this . Today, many of the artists on the continent seek patronage from national banks.

African primitive art

The primitive African arts , on the other hand, follow an influence more typical of the daily lives of the peoples and communities of the region . They follow, as already said, an animistic tradition. They are arts that reflect respect for spirits and ancestors.


It should be noted that African painting has had a subordinate role to other arts. The common thing was that this was dedicated only to decoration of masks and other works . It was, however, with the passing of the 20th century that this reality was disrupted. In this regard, the influence that this discipline has had on renowned authors such as Picasso is quite noticeable.


This, on the other hand, has had an important history on the continent. It presents a style quite close to the realistic and the dramatic . They are works that represent ritual or funeral situations . Among the most prominent, we can nominate the masks. Masks are the most renowned form of artistic expression on the continent. They are used, like many others, for religious purposes.


Historically, architectural sites and works took time to be made on the continent. This is due to the nomadic lifestyle of the peoples. Their works were mainly made with the resources at hand (among them, of course, there is clay and stone ). Such works usually had an animist-oriented decoration , as happens with the previous ones.

Importance of African art

How can we not highlight the importance of the African arts? His legacy, we know, has spread to western culture through Picasso and other authors. The African style has captivated many artists and patrons from the West . Today it is common to see in some homes the reproduction of African masks . Reproduction is said, since UNESCO banned its export from the continent in the 20th century.


Let’s see, now, some of the most significant representatives of African art:

  • Alain Gomis (Cinema).
  • Mbué symbol ( Literature ).
  • Ogu Oguibe ( Visual Arts ).
  • Nadia Beugré (Dance).


Among the different works of African art we highlight:

  • Benin Bronze Plaque.
  • Child Soldier in Ivory Coast, Gilbert Goud.
  • Head cast in bronze, Nigeria.


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