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Saturday, July 13, 2024

A Comparison of West African Art and Southern African Articrafts

For decades, art in the Western part of African and Southern African has been adding exceedingly inherent values and continues to hold crafts and artistic creativities in high esteem.

Reading this article will improve your brain connectivity on art and application of human imagination and creative skills, typically in a visual form, as it has to do with West Africa and South Africa.

You’ll feel inspired reading this article which is the primary intent of the writer. Read on to learn more. 

A Glance at West African Art

Art, in the history of West Africa, dates back to 500 BC through to 200 AD and still exists and expands till the present time. Here is a glimpse at the works of art in the western part of Africa. 

First of all, the West African region is diverse in its forms of art, which range from monumental architectural heritage to intimately small personal art objects.

West Africa’s artistic heritage

The artistic heritage of the West African countries covers their most striking textiles, masks, jewelry, traditional sculptures, and masks, which represent the spirit and natural world in their unique forms. 

The details here take in all West African countries such as Nigeria, Sierra Leone, Ghana, Cameroon, Guinea Bissau, Niger, Senegal, Burkina Faso, Liberia, Mali, Guinea, Mauritania, Benin, Togo, Cape Verde, and the Gambia.

However, West African visual art analysis here focuses on three expansive areas – the Guinea Coast, Western Sudan (a conventional name for people in the savanna region of West Africa), and Nigeria. 

The idea is to clarify readers on the diversity of the traditions and styles within the West African region, hence enabling them to recognize the thesis they have in common.

Western Sudan and Art

Stretching from West to east Central Africa, Sudan is a geographic region to the south of the Sahara. Its western part is in the West African savanna region, which the Islamic states dominate.

They are known for sculptures with the main characteristics of schematic methods of depiction. 

The region’s more familiar and famous arts are common to the Tellem and Dogon people inhabiting the Bandiagara escarpment in Mali; Bambara (Bamana), Djenné, and Mopti, Senufo, Bwa, and Mossi.

Major Arts of Western Sudan

1. Sculptures

Dogon has sculptural figures linked with ancestral and spiritual beliefs, including the mythic Nommo spirits and the actual ancestors. The sculptures accommodate the spirits of the dead.

The ancient wood sculptures in Dogon date back to the 15th to 17th century CE. Other wrought iron sculptures exist in some of the regions mentioned above.

2. Masks

They also have masks that serve to chase off the spirits of the deceased once the mourning period is over. Satimbe mask and Kanaga mask are their types of masks, but their most popular masks are called “sirige.”

3. Architecture

Dogon also has physical artifacts such as the men’s meeting home called “House of Words” or togu nagreat round sanctuaries in organic form, and lineage leaders houses ornamented with crisscross patterns that signify civilization and order. 

4. Textiles

The most ancient textile fragments in West Africa originated from the Dogon territory in the 11th Century.

Arts of the Guinea Coast

The forested part of Western Africa, the Guinea Coast, is mainly dominated by Islam. Towards the eastern end is inhabited by Asante (in modern Ghana), Edo kingdom of Benin (Nigeria), and Fon (Benin), and in the Yoruba, Oyo Empire.

Guinea Coast is mainly recognizable for their masks used for masquerading, and sculpture displays, a superior propensity to realistic ways of illustration.

Other major regions of this part of the West African country include Bidyogo (Bidjogo), Dan-We, Baga, Mende, Asante, Fante, and Baule – their major artifacts are the same as that of Western Sudan.

General Overview of Nigerian Art

Although some southern and northern parts of Nigeria make up the Guinea Coast and Western Sudan, it’s necessary to consider it separately because of the diversified art and culture.

The works of arts and artifacts in Nigeria are common to its major regions and peoples, including Ijo, Daima and Sao, Edo people, Ife and Yoruba, Ekoi, Igbo, Ibibio, Hausa, Fulani, and Nupe.

Although Nigeria is known for paintings and masks, the major traditional arts of this part of Western Africa include:

  • Nok Art – West African sculpture is the most primitive art discovered in Kaduna state, northern Nigeria, between the 5th century BCE – early centuries CE. The Nok art is Africa’s artifact acclaimed worldwide, comprising the terracotta sculptures of 1928.
  • Igbo Ukwu metalworking art: These include various decorative objects of metal that thrived in the 9th Century in the Igbo-Ukwu town of Anambra State, Nigeria.
  • Ife Art: Naturalistic sculptures of the Ife Kingdom.
  • Woodcarving: Carving of wood in various designs in Nigeria dates back to the 12 century. 
  • Pottery: One of the cheapest arts in Nigeria led by women.
  • Cloth Weaving: Most widely practiced in the urban areas of the country using raffia and cotton.

In modern times, artists across West and South Africa realize their artistic potential and appreciate general qualities that classify all great art by creating unique works of art.

These artists, in their creativity, initiated so many different styles of paintings, sculptures, masks, and related artistic expressions without them knowing how or where they came at first.

What is a common theme of West African art?

African art, without exception of West Africa, has four major themes representing the portrayal of the ancient stranger, ceremonial honor, the mother earth, and her people.

An Overview of the South African Art

The concept of art in South Africa is indeed a unique essence. As long as art goes in Africa, South Africa has a rich collection of artifacts, ranging from the 4000-year old San Bushmen cave paintings to the apartheid conceptual art movement and rich art selection in Africa. 

The 20th Century and apartheid: Throughout history, art has been an essential aspect of South Africa, its society, and its culture.

During the apartheid era, art created awareness and expression for people fighting for change – mainly a case of the country’s artists.

Art and resistance under apartheid towards the people’s culture: At a point in history, during the mid-1970s, a resistance art form opposing the apartheid in South Africa came into existence.

Despite the state of siege in South African art from the 1960s till the 1990s, the country has some richest and oldest artifacts in Africa that we will emphasize.

A Look at South African Artifacts

This section will highlight the art objects discovered by people or produced by South African artists, typically those with cultural or historical interest.

1. Pleistocene stone artifacts

The Pleistocene stone artifacts in South Africa, uncovered by South African and Canadian archaeologists from (Toronto University), are rare from the cradle of humankind sites.

The great archeologists discovered a dense deposit of artifacts, early Stone Age and Middle Stone Age Pleistocene stone, in Kathu Townlands (a 1,000,000-year old site and the richest archaeological sites in South Africa) near Kathu town, North Cape Province.  

Among the stone artifacts discovered were flakes, cores, bifaces, hand axes, and others. The Kathu Townlands, where the archeologists found these artifacts, is a constituent of prehistory sites in Kathu, called the Kathu Complex.  

The complex site has produced a thousand stone tools and animal fossils. To date, it has remained the history of African artifacts and the world at large. 

In most cases, the artifacts are “1-million-year-old artifacts in South Africa”, while other people call it a “73,000-year-old doodle”. Perhaps, it has become the world’s oldest drawing and artifact deposits so far.

2. Paleolithic Rock Art

Paleolithic rock art of South Africa is the engravings and paintings found in the cave – they are otherwise called cave art.

Cave art was discovered around 30,000 BC by pre-Bantu peoples, nomadic hunters who entered South Africa 10 years before the Paleolithic rock art – dwelling in the cave throughout their time. 

‘Bushmen’ paintings are one of the signs they left, as well as rocks and other art playing a significant role in people’s life. The paintings depict hunting, domestic and magic-related art.

3. The 4000-year-old gallery

The 4000-year-old gallery of South Africa is a discovery of San Bushmen hunter-gatherers that dwelled in the gigantic Drakensberg mountain range 4,000 years ago. 

It’s a corpus of outstanding rock art, comprising cave arts and rock shelters of a massive group, which has remained the most significant and most intense rock paintings in sub-Saharan Africa.

Due to the uniqueness and iconic features of this rock art in Africa, Unesco, in 2000, declared the Drakensberg a cultural and natural world heritage site.

Unesco quotes the paintings “they represent the spiritual life of the San people” and are “outstanding both in quality and diversity of subject.” 

4. Colonial art

Colonial art is the art of the early colonial era founded by white South African artists. They mainly concentrated on making accurate illustrations of what they regarded as a “new world.”

Among these great artists of the colonial era was Thomas Baines, who toured around South Africa, got the records of landscapes, flora, fauna, and people, which he used as a medium of getting back to those residing in the city.

The locally rooted arts of South Africa were established towards the end of the 19th Century by renowned artists, sculptor Anton van Wouw, Pieter Hugo Naude, and Jan Volschenk – the painters.

Their works of art take their root in the following:

  • A quick look at the life spent in the country concerning the artistic vision.
  • Honoring the moment South Africa started having its own national identity in conjunction with the formal end of the colonial era (1910 Union of South Africa). 

5. Contemporary Art in South Africa

South Africa has vibrant and diverse contemporary art that relates to its culture and population. They include paintings, sculptures, and other creative works of art displayed and museums and art galleries.

Contemporary arts in the country are the products of modern-day artists who adopt high-tech and new media to craft varied objects of creativity. A typical example is the CUSS Group and Dineo Seshee Bopape’s work.

What is South African resistance art?

It’s the form of art pioneered by Willie Bester during the 1980s to resist the apartheid and commemorate the unity and strength of Africa.

Top Art Works of the South African Country:

  • Zulu Baskets
  • San Bushmen Rock Paintings – Drakensberg Mountains
  • The Conservationists Ball – William Kentridge
  • Song of the Pick – Gerard Sekoto
  • Elephants Charging over Quartos Country – Thomas Baines
  • Ndebele Beadwork
  • A Broad View of Farmlands – JH Pierneef
  • The Rice Lady – Vladimir Tretchikoff
  • The Butcher Boys – Jane Alexander
  • Pretoria Mural – Walter Battiss

Bottom Line

Art has gained importance from both Western Africa and Southern African culture that colonialists did not consider. The above well-articulated points provide our readers with deep insights into art in the two mentioned African regions.  

Even if you’re not interested in art studies, learning the basic concepts, similarities, and dissimilarities of West African and South African art will help encourage your sense of individual identity and build your self-expression and creativity.

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