Africa has a history of art that is unmatched anywhere else in the world. The art forms found on the African continent are as diverse as the African people themselves. Numerous tribes and groups from all over the continent contributed to African art history with unique works of art. Despite this diversity, there are some prominent themes that appear in much of African art throughout history. These themes are:
African Art Themes
Emphasis on the human figure.
An emphasis on abstract art over naturalistic art.
Artist throughout African history tend to concentrate on three-dimensional (example: Sculpture) artworks as opposed to two-dimensional (example: Paintings).
The creation of art for use in performance or ceremonies. Art was usually not created to be hung on walls or set in a corner, a common African theme was to use the art. For example mask were worn in many different types of social activities.
With few exceptions most early sub-Saharan African artworks did not survive to modern day due to the materials they were made out of. Artworks made of wood, leather, plant fibers, and other perishable materials eventually wore out.
Archaeologists and historians are working at piecing together sub-Saharan African art history. Most of the continent is still unexplored archaeologically. It is hoped that new discoveries will help in this endeavor. For now there is only sparse information available. Some of the more important information and discoveries are explained below.
Sao African Art History
Archaeologist have discovered bronze pottery and ornaments made by the Sao people whose civilization flourished south of Lake Chad from the sixth century BC to the sixteenth century. Over fifteen thousand pottery finds from the early civilization have been made.
Nok African Art History
The oldest figurative sculptures discovered south of the Sahara were found in Nigeria and include sculptures of heads, figures, and animals. These works of art were made by a culture called the Nok people who thrived from 500 BC to approximately 200 AD.
Ife African Art History
Another ancient culture that lived in modern day Nigeria, called the Ife, made beautiful pieces of art. Their culture produced this art sometime prior to 1200 AD. Their art was more stylized than their Nok predecessors. Nine bronze sculptures produced by the Ife were found on the small island of Jebba along the Niger river
Bronze African Art Found in Igbo-Ukwu
Many bronze objects were unearthed in the village of Igbo-Ukwu in southeastern Nigeria which date back to the 10th century or earlier. Many of these objects were used in ceremonies and for a burial.
Benin African Art History
The kingdom of Benin existed in the South region of Nigeria from approximately 1440 AD to 1897 AD. These African people made beautiful artworks out of bronze, brass, ivory, clay, wood, and terracotta. Their art included figurines, animal heads, plaques, and busts.
Owo African Art History
The town of Owo in Nigeria was the capital of a Yoruba city-state from approximately 1400 AD to 1600 AD. Historians and archaeologist have discovered terracotta sculptures here, some dating back to the 15th century.
Mali African Art History
The Mali region , also called the inner Niger delta, has been populated for centuries. Numerous archaeological sites have been discovered that have yielded many pottery sculptures that were produced between the 12th and 16th century. Many of the pottery is human or animal figurines molded in clay.