Africa’s Art and Sculpture

African art has been the root to the development of the world’s cultures and traditions.  And to this day, it stands as the solid pillar that shaped civilization and the history of the world.

African art is a term typically used for the art of Sub-Saharan Africa. Often, casual, amateur observers tend to generalize “traditional” African art, but the continent is full of people, societies and civilizations, each with a unique visual culture. The definition may also include the art of the Africa Diasporas such as the art of African Americans. Despite this diversity, there are some unifying artistic themes when considering the totality of the visual culture from the continent of Africa.

The term “African art” does not usually include the art of the North African areas along the Mediterranean coast, as such areas had long been part of different traditions. For more than a millennium, the art of such areas had formed part of Islamic arts.

The art of Ethiopia, with a long Christian tradition, is also different from that of most of Africa, where traditional African religion (with Islam in the north) was dominant until relatively recently.

Most African sculpture was historically in wood and other natural materials that have not survived from earlier than, at most, a few centuries ago.


African masks can be traced back to well past Paleolithic times. They often represent a spirit and it is strongly believed that the spirit of the ancestors possesses the wearer. Masks are important part of African ceremonies, rituals and initiations. They are representatives of the ancient African history and culture. African people show great honor to their ancestors and they design their masks with elaborate hair and jewelry to pay respect to their ancestors which they believe will please them and also bring their blessings. Masks have been greatly admired in African culture and are one of the best crafts of the African people.


Sculpture is most common among “groups of settled cultivators” in the areas drained by the Niger and Congo rivers” in West Africa. Define groups of settled cultivators.

  1. Akan goldweights

Akan goldweights are weights made of brass used as a measuring system by the Akan people of West Africa, particularly for weighing gold dust which was currency until replaced by paper money and coins. They are a form of small metal sculptures produced in West Africa over the period 1400–1900. some apparently represent proverbs, contributing a narrative element rare in African sculpture.

2. Royal regaliaThe royal regalia are symbols of the king’s power and majesty, and of the monarchy as a form of government and it includes impressive gold sculptured elements. It is used in most African cultures with Monarchs.

3. Makonde Sculpture

Makonde art sculpture is the art of the Makonde people (tribe) in East Africa mostly based in Tanzania but can be found in other parts of east Africa. They lack a large timber to carve in this region. Some of the Makonde sculptures are carved to represent Makonde men and women.

4.  Nok Terracotta Sculpture

Crafting sculptures were a unique talent found among the ancient African tribes. The outstanding terracotta pottery heads and portions of figures, from the Nok culture of Nigeria dates back to 500 BC through to 200 AD. These sculptures were made from grog and iron rich clay and demonstrated the strong abstract figurative representation that existed in Africa for over 2500 yrs.The Nok terra-cotta objects are used for rituals and as commemorative sculptures of local chiefs, or dignitaries, kings, queens and priests.

5. Stone Sculptures

Stone sculptures were famous among the African Kongo people and the Sherbro from Sierra Leone of 16th Century. Archeologists believe that the stone sculptures were representation of the people in that region as they were found buried.

8. The Soapstone Zimbabwe Birds

The Soapstone bird is the official emblem of Zimbabwe, appears on their coat of arms and currencies.This art appear to have had a special significance and were presumably mounted on monoliths. The birds are sacred representations constituting an integral part of the spiritual image of the capital. The stone birds continued to represent the spirit and essence of Great Zimbabwe. There are 8 known soapstone bird.


Bronze casting

West African cultures developed bronze casting for reliefs, like the famous Benin Bronzes, to decorate palaces and for highly naturalistic royal heads from around the Bini town of Benin City, Edo State, in terracotta as well as metal, from the 12th–14th centuries. The bronze casting tradition that dates back to the 9th Century is the origin of the Igbo-Ukwu tribe of Nigeria and it was at its peak with the Ife people from Yoruba, Nigeria who began to produce very fine brass and bronze castings in the 12th Century and continued to the 15th Century.

African Rock Art

Rock art is the earliest form of art in African art history and Africa holds the greatest collection of rock art spread throughout the continent. The first known rock art preserved in the Saharan sands in Niger belongs to 6500 BC. Rock art are fine examples of how ancient tribes viewed their world around them and provides a detailed insight into their thoughts, their spirituality and their physical world.


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