African art history has played a significant role in shaping the culture and history of the world. The belief that Africa is the cradle of the history of mankind is gradually becoming unarguable. The origins of African art history lie long before recorded history, preserved in the obscurity of time.
Rock Art is centuries old, while shell beads fashioned for a necklace have been recovered in a cave in the furthest reach of the southern peninsula of South Africa that are 75 000 years old.
Let’s take you on a tour of some artworks that have helped preserve the history of Africa.
The Bronze Head from Ife:
The Bronze Head from Ife, or Ife Head, is one of eighteen copper alloy sculptures that were unearthed in 1938 at Ife in Nigeria, the religious and former royal centre of the Yoruba people. It is believed to represent a king.
The Benin ivory mask:
The Benin ivory mask is a miniature sculptural portrait in ivory of the powerful Queen Mother Idia of the 16th century Benin Empire, taking the form of an African traditional mask.
Akan gold weights:
Akan gold weights are weights made of brass used as a measuring system by the Akan people of West Africa (historians suspects its location is Ghana), particularly for weighing gold dust which was the currency until replaced by paper money and coins. Used to weigh gold and merchandise, at first glance the gold weights look like miniature models of everyday objects.
Butcher Boys (1985-6):
Eerily life-like and frightening, the grey horned trio known as the Butcher Boys is a renowned piece of art in South Africa by artist Jane Alexander. The life-size humanoid figures perch on a wooden bench as if they were patrons who are sitting down to rest. They symbolize the racial discrimination and violence committed during apartheid South Africa.
The Abu Simbel temples:
The Abu Simbel temples are two massive rock temples at Abu Simbel, a village in Aswan Governorate, Upper Egypt, near the border with Sudan. They are situated on the western bank of Lake Nasser, about 230 km southwest of Aswan.
The Fang Staff Finial:
The Fang people, known for their wooden reliquary figures, settled in the equatorial forests by the 19th century, and comprise Gabon’s largest ethnic group today. The artwork is Fang staff is an applied copper sheet and pins, while the finial with three masks above four seated figures and an iron spike tip. Research does not show the reason behind the art although it dates back to the late 18th and early 19th century.
This sculpture originates from Nothern Nigeria and dates as far back as 500BC – AD500
Historians and archaeologists claim that these rock paintings pre-historic. Most of them are found in caves in Tanzania and Niger.
Now, that’s a brief tour of Africa through the ages.
What other historic pieces of art have you seen on the continent and abroad that left you awe-struck? Please share with us in the comment section.