African Art and Things You Should Know

African folk art illustrates the traditions, political systems and spirituality of tribal villages through crafts created by people without any formal academic training. These skilled native craftsmen incorporate fine art even with the most primitive conditions that they are set in. Each culture creates its very own, distinct folk art depending on the materials available, and the intention of creating such objects.

Women are particularly skillful with two-dimensional art like designing textiles, basket weaving, beadwork, and even pottery from the simplest to the most intricate designs. Men on the other hand, take charge of wood carvings and metalwork.

This type of art not only satisfies the functional value of the craft but the artisans also make sure they capture the visual beauty as well as the symbolic significance of the pieces. Everything about everyday village life is linked to art whether it be for personal adornment, basic household, or rituals and ceremonies.

African Art and Personal Adornment.

Naturally, people beautify themselves in ways which commonly involve hairstyles, jewellery and clothing.

The different African tribal cultures establish some typical statement of beauty or indication of people’s age, rank in the tribal political hierarchy, social status or affiliation in an exclusive ethnic group. These may be made evident through body adornments like scars; tattoos; body paint; reshaping of earlobes, lips or necks; and other accessories like staff, crowns or other headgear, and weapons.

African Folk Art and Basic Household Functionality and beauty come together when creating even the basic utilitarian objects. Among the most common everyday items that are finely designed and decorated include: furniture; handmade pottery and baskets of different sizes, shapes and uses; eating utensils; and dishes.

African Folk Art and Rituals and Ceremonies.

Each mythical god of the different African culture is represented by African folk art, usually in wooden, metal or clay figures. These images are kept within the villages and even in each home for guidance and protection.

Traditional dances in Africa have been a very important part of every ceremony or ritual performed. The dancers, musicians and other ceremonial performers express their unique cultural heritage and historical influences through their costumes of different patterns and material, masks, head dresses and their dance movements.

Divination is among the most prominent religious practices in Africa that involves gaining knowledge and acquiring hidden messages from supernatural beings. Rituals of divination are performed to discern a person’s destiny or help tribes deal with a variety of difficult conditions like natural calamities. Divination varies among different African cultures and different kinds of art mediums are used by each diviner from the simplest animal feathers and bones to the most intricately detailed artwork.

Some Elements  You Would Find In African Art:

Resemblance to a human being:

African artists praise a carved figure by saying that it “looks like a human being.” Artists seldom portray particular people, actual animals, or the actual form of invisible spirits. Rather, they aim to portray ideas about reality, spiritual or human, and express these ideas through human or animal images.


The lustrously smooth surface of most African figural sculpture, often embellished with decorative scarification, indicates beautifully shining, healthy skin. Figures with rough surfaces and deformities are intended to appear ugly and morally flawed.


The person who is composed behaves in a measured and rational way; he or she is controlled, proud, dignified, and cool.


A youthful appearance connotes vigor, productiveness, fertility, and an ability to labor. Illness and deformity are rarely depicted because they are signs of evil.

Clarity of form and detail, complexity of composition, balance and symmetry, smoothness of finish:

African artists place a high value on fine workmanship and mastery of the medium.


We would like to know your perspective on African art forms.

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