African Art

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African Art
Mask of Dignity african art by Rich LaPenna

Mask of Dignity by Rich LaPenna

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Influencers Abdoulaye Konate
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Top Picture: King Tut Tomb Wall Egypt by Kenneth Garrett

African art, or Africa art, is a type of art that originated in Africa and depicts the continent’s culture and traditions. It includes carvings, sculptures, and paintings that were either found on archaeological excavations or created by a known artist. Egyptian art represents the most famous art style originating from the continent.

African Art

African art played a very important role in the development of the Modern Art movement in Europe and America. In the nineteenth century, artworks from Africa were collected as curiosities. However, they were not appreciated at that time because many people find them ugly and primitive. In the early twentieth century, the attitude towards art from Africa changed. Artists such as Pablo Picasso, Georges Braque, Maurice de Vlaminck, and Henri Matisse became interested in African sculptures. They studied them and used what they learned in their own art. Because of that, African artworks made a great contribution to the development of Modern Art. The oldest preserved rock art in the Saharan sands of Niger is dated at around 6500 BC. This type of art is known as a petroglyph and depicts animals such as giraffes. These images provide insight into how ancient African tribes and cultures saw the world. Unfortunately, many of these works are being destroyed due to nature or human interference. Today, there are many African artists who create very impressive paintings. Many of them are not famous because their art is not yet known throughout the world. Nganga Mukuma is an example. One of his works is called Caravan and is painted on a heavy canvas using acrylic. It depicts a caravan of four camels in a desert, a scene that is common in Africa. Another African artist is Patrick Nganga. His best-known painting The Choice is Yours depicts an African family and has abstract elements. It is painted on paper with acrylic. Sculpture is also a popular form of African artwork. The primary material Africans use for sculptures is wood. Antique wood sculptures are considered valuable by many and are prized and collected. Some of the finest wood sculptures are dated circa 1920.

African art influenced the art styles of modern art. Henri Matisse, Pablo Picasso and their School of Paris colleagues were influenced by the treatment of the human figure in African sculptures. They blended the styles of sculptures and impressionism painting styles to create art that transcended the rigid confines of naturalistic expressions of traditional Western art. The resulting artwork displayed images with flat pictorial flatness, vivid color saturation, and fragmented cubism shapes. The earliest evidence of this influence was noted in the Autobiography of Alice B. Toklas which detailed Matisse’s purchase of an African statue from the Democratic Republic of Congo. Matisse was drawn to the “objects’ inventive and elegant figural composition.” He credited the styles of African sculptured with providing him inspiration for creating art that didn’t need to conform to established artistic norms, referring it as giving form to the fear of the unknown. Amedeo Modigliani was found inspiration from African art sculptures. His 1917 painting Reclining Nude featured the facial style of Baule masks that was found on the shores of the Ivory Coast; the style was also utilized in his sculpture called Woman’s Head. Paul Klee was another artist who evoked the style of African art to create formless artwork, having found naturalism to be inadequate to express the horrors of the world wars that occurred in his home country of Germany. His paintings Ventriloquist and Crier in the Moor and Comedians’ Handbill were believed to contain influences from Bwa masks and Mali fabric patterns.  


  • Tea Picker byStephen Njenga
  • Market Rides by Jeff Wambugu
  • Caravan by Nganga Mukuma
  • The Choice is Yours by Patrick Nganga
  • Drum Beat by Sebastian Makelele

Fun Facts

  • Based on a study of Africa’s art history, the earliest sculptures found in Nigeria are dated around 500 BC.
  • Travelers, traders, and missionaries were among the people who collected African artworks for curious means.
  • The history of the art of Africa was not preserved and documented because colonialists during the nineteenth century did not give indigenous art any attention.

Related Articles

  • Nganga Mukuma
  • Patrick Nganga
  • Sebastian Makelele
  • Evanson Kagetho
  • Peter Muinde


Some Examples of African Art

Celebration african art by Keith Mallett


Unity african art by Monica Stewart


Falling Star c.1979 african art by Romare Bearden

Falling Star c.1979