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Thursday, April 18, 2024

A Comparison of the African Art and the Aboriginal Art

The element that most excites many people to create or restore indigenous cultures across the globe is their fascination with art and cultural history.

In this article, we provided the historical accounts regarding African art in the first phase, meaning, themes, and things that comprise the parts of culture, either in native African communities or elsewhere in Sub-Sahara Africa.

While the latter is the summary and facts about the aboriginal arts, both match up as a glimpse of similarities and dissimilarities between African art and the aboriginal arts.

Now, let’s deep dive into what makes up African art and aboriginal art.

African Art: Characteristics, and Themes

First of all, we’ll start by giving descriptions of what African art and aboriginal art respectively are all about.

African art is the expression of human creativity and imagination, encompassing historical and modern paintings, sculptures, murals, or other visuals produced in the African continent, perhaps including the African Diaspora.

What makes up the major characteristics of African art?

The primary component of traditional African art is physical resemblance or realism, as most people conceive it. Still, the significant characteristics include conventionalization, representational accuracy, visual abstraction, and creativity and innovation.

African sculpture and associated arts

Africans have endowments in creativity, hence crafting imaginative expressions with several illustrations in complex blends.

It is evident in various continents in Africa and sub-Sahara Africa, which illustrates how much impact each country’s culture and particular styles had established them within contemporary native art.

African sculpture comes in different mediums such as pottery, copper alloys, ivory, unfired clay, iron, and stone (rarely), although wood is the best-known.

Arts in the African continent have an excessive emphasis. Other associated art forms are visual art, including masks, bodily ornamentation, paintings, music, dance, individual art objects, and lots more.

Elements and Themes of African Art

There’re significant elements, and themes explored most often in the beautiful works of art in Africa.

They majorly reveal the importance of African artifacts, and they include:

  • Human resemblance: The works of art native of African continents represent ideas about human or human traits, characterized mainly by paintings and sculptures. African art comes from the human figure, animals, and symbols.
  • Clarity of form and detail: African art takes various forms with clarification of more information, which takes in the smoothness of finish and complexity of composition as major features.
  • Luminosity: Represents its lustrously smooth surfaces and ornamental scarification that shows a stunning shining effect.
  • Balance and symmetry: African art being symmetrically balanced implies they differ on both sides but try to create balance.
  • Self-composure (Expressionlessness): With only a few exceptions, historical works of art have no display of human emotions.
  • Aesthetics: African art involves a set of principles involving the appreciation of beauty.
  • Religion and the Spiritual Realm: It connotes spiritual reality and belief in most African cultures.
  • Craftsmanship: Have the quality of handmade designs and artistry.
  • Symbolism: African art images are symbolic in that they represent ancestors and express mystical ideas.

The elements of African art differ according to the culture of the people. However, some of them, such as self-composure, luminosity, togetherness, craftsmanship, and symbolism, are general.

All the themes of African art have basic representations, including the portrayal of great ancient people, ceremonial honor, mother earth, and the people, to mention but a few.

Early Representations of Africa Art

The earliest forms of art in Africa were engraving and rock art that originated in Namibia about 26 000 to 28 000 years ago.

According to scientific research, the oldest artistic image in Africa is the Apollo 11 caves, which archeologists discovered in the Huns Mountains, south-western Namibia.

Notably, the largest size of the earliest-known sculpture in African art is the ceramic art of Nok culture.

The earliest-known sculpture of considerable size in Sudan is the ceramic art of the Nok culture. It thrived extensively well in the northern part of Nigeria between the 5th century, before the Common Era, and the early century during the Common Era.

Other best examples include:

  • The early representations of African landscapes paintings.
  • Early depictions on African arts.
  • Stone paintings depicted alongside rock engravings.
  • Carved stone figures atop wooden houses and so much more.

For one to provide an overview on the details of African art, particular local characteristics (and what I believe they represent), and the demonstrations of how people used them in different cultures work with certain materials. It will diverge into Western art.

What was the purpose of African art?

Initially, African art had different applications and symbolized a wide selection of meanings. Most artifacts were made to serve cultural, religious, social, and political functions and continuously performed those functions and related ones.

Another objective about number 1 above is explicitly how indigenous people of Africa and its Diaspora have developed as their techniques for paintings, traditional canvas, artistic crafts, and other things that define art in the continent.

The latter is obtainable in a different continent, illustrating how much impact individual cultural styles had once established within contemporary native art.

Aboriginal Art

Aboriginal art describes art pieces, artifacts, or artistic creations with esthetic values that the indigenous people of Australia produce.

It plays a central role in the stories of indigenous Australians as the oldest ongoing form of creative art. However, sometimes this interest seems limited rather than exclusive to historical accuracy.

“Aboriginal” seems to be a general term for any non-native artistic tradition practiced in different forms since prehistoric times. 

In other words, it includes all Australian cultures apart from those who made them up on their own with no contact or interaction.

An art critic, Robert Hughes, described aboriginal art as the “last great art movement of the 20th Century”. He added that it is similar to the revolutionary art movement of the late 19th century, such as the Impressionists in Paris.

Presently, aboriginal art reflects the richness and indigenous cultural diversity across wide-ranging media across distinct language groups and geographic landscapes.

Earliest Forms of Aboriginal Art

Aboriginal art, which is the oldest form of artistic expression worldwide, indigenous to the people of Australia, has its earliest forms as:

  • rock carvings
  • body painting
  • ground designs, and
  • paintings.

Types of Aboriginal Art

Aboriginal art, which has been in existence for thousands of years ago is of different types. People have used the multitude of forms that this art takes in various ways.  

Below are the types of aboriginal art, including their formations and the ways by which people have used them

i. Bark Paintings: Bark painting is the most primitive type of Aboriginal Art, but somewhat lacks prolonged existence.

ii. Aboriginal Rock Art: Dates back to cave walls engraving of 40,000 years ago in Arnhem Land.

iii. Ochre Paintings: This kind of aboriginal art came into use initially by combining animal binders and earth pigments with vegetables only.

iv. Ceremonial Artifacts, Body Paint, and Awelye: Initiated by a renowned artist, Minnie Pwerle, and her successors, body paint designs are transient and are painted more in acrylic latterly.

v. Wood Carvings and Sculpture: Wide-ranging, exciting, ancient artistic development that extends to the modern time.

vi. Works on Paper: This style focuses on the West McDonnell Ranges landscapes, particularly synonymous with Albert Namatjira.

vii. Textiles: Textile in aboriginal art means adapting to traditional art using new materials produced for commercial purposes.

viii. Fibre Art: Presently, the representation of beautiful and meaningful objects, but formerly practical objects.

ix. New Media: Indigenous artists of Australia majorly have clinched to the new media and its new technology.

Styles of Aboriginal Art 

The indigenous people of Australia adopt diverse styles in creating aboriginal art. And the assortment is what makes the genre self-renewing and exciting till the present.

Below are the styles of Australian aboriginal art:

Naïve Indigenous Art: Signifies the day-to-day life of Australian indigenous peoples.

Bush Medicine Leaves: A synonymous example refers to the Art Gallery of New South Wales ‘Wynne Prize’ for landscape 1999 famed for the captivating artwork of Gloria Petyarre.

Dot Paintings: Demonstrate Aboriginal Art in the mind of most people, and vary from the wildest and vigorous, colorful dots to the finest dot work.

Cross Hatching: Otherwise called Rarrk paintings, familiar in Northern Australia and believed to hold great power and spirit through fine lines crossing art.

Colour Fields: Initiated by Kudditji Kngwarreye, this style uses a more vigorous style similar to the work of Mark Rothko.

Dub Dub Paintings: Include the composition of powerful colors obtained using paint laden and canvas.

Facts about Aboriginal Art

  • Aboriginal art has its basis on dream time stories, which are currently exceeding 50,000 years old.
  • A strong and vibrant Aboriginal community exists in Tasmania.
  • Aboriginal people of Australia use aboriginal symbols instead of written language.
  • It’s among the application adopted in teaching the present generations.
  • Different tribal groups in Australia today use different aboriginal artistic styles and media.
  • Artists who want to paint a particular story using traditional aboriginal art need to seek permission.
  • Aboriginal art on boards and canvas started about 50 years ago.
  • It continues to strengthen the aboriginal culture of the Australian people.
  • Aboriginal dot painting is a particular style of art with some hidden secrets.
  • It is displayed in various art galleries and museums today.
  • The meaning of aboriginal art has multiple parts.
  • The ‘U-symbol’ in Aboriginal art, according to belief, represents a person sitting cross-legged in the sand.


While the continents in Africa are vast and their people diverse, describing art as it pertains to the continent seems complicated. An attempt to summarize art’s significant concepts and characteristics in Africa may result in statements that describe Western art.

Some facts are somewhat similar to the aboriginal arts to an extent. However, we have given the essential details one would want to know about the two.

The above details cover the comparison of arts of the indigenous African continents and Sub-Sahara Africa and aboriginal art. 

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