The origin of African art lies long before its recorded history. The entire continent of Africa is loaded with people, societies and civilizations and each of its country boasts of having a unique and special visual culture. The totality of the visual culture of African art has been emphasized mainly on the human figures, sculptures, performance art and nonlinear scaling. Unlike European painting or sculpture, traditional African art has not greatly changed over the years. Hence, it can safely be assumed that astonishing imaginative range of African art prepared today is akin to what it was centuries ago. Read through the following lines to know some interesting and amazing information on the history, origin and background of African art.
Interesting & Amazing Information On Origin & Background Of African Art
The origin of African art takes us back to the 5th century BC, where the first masterpieces were made in two incompatible styles of sculptures. The characteristic sculpture of Africa formed the largest part of primitive art, which can be dated back to as early as 500 BC, in Nok culture of Nigeria. These sculptures included distorting human features and limbs in a dramatically expressive manner. Also, pottery figures were first found in this Nok village. The statuettes made of terracotta were the longest surviving tradition of African sculpture. Eventually, sculptures were made out of metal in Nigeria in 12th century.
West Africa and mainly modern Nigeria showcases the longest and richest sequence of terracotta figures. These art pieces date back to two and a half millennia, to the Nok sculptures. Eventually, figures were modeled with a wonderful severity in the Sokoto region of northwest Nigeria in the 1st century AD. Heads and figures made of terracotta have been found in Ife (modern south-west Nigeria), dating from the 12th to 15th century. This is the same period, when the first cast-metal sculptures also came into existence. A group of terracottas have also been found in South Africa that date back to the 6th century AD. Seven heads modeled in a brutally chunky style were found in Lydenburg in the Transvaal.
Sculptures were cast in brass and sometimes pure copper in the 15th century, in Benin, by the Yoruba people. The heads found in Benin were delightful to look at, but less powerful in their impact than those of Ife. They were made of brass, usually melted down from vessels and ornaments that arrived on trade routes. The arrival of Portuguese to Benin prompted the sculptors to undertake a new style of work. Hence, brass plaques with scenes in relief came into existence, wherein you can find the Portuguese featuring their own self. These plaques were nailed to wooden pillars as decoration in royal palaces. Even today, Benin is still considered as a great center of metal casting and the sculptures are commonly known as Benin bronzes.
Powerful terracotta figures continued to be crafted in traditional manner in the 19th and 20th century. However, in regions south to the Sahara, wood became the natural material, for carving sculptures. Collectors have made great efforts to preserve reasonable number of wood sculptures from the 19th century. Sculptures, made from wood, were very prominent as a living tradition in the 20th century and still continue to be. African tribal sculptors made carvings for a clear and practical purpose. For example, a carved figure represented an ancestor, destined to stand in a shrine, a mask prepared to be used by a shaman only once a year to perform in a special dance, an elaborate chair made specially for the chief himself to sit on, and so on.
Whatever be the reason for the creation of tribal art, the result is an unrivalled display of the power of imagination. The basic subject of art is human body. In African art body parts are displayed in new dimensions and relationships, right from a central axis of eyes, nose, mouth, navel and genital organs to the peripheral cast list of hair, ears, arms, breasts, legs and buttocks. Though it is difficult to predict whether a particular image seemed to be sad or terrifying, but these carvings undoubtedly depict energy and playfulness to the core.