Africa, 1100-1980 CE General Concepts

Topic 1: General Concepts

  • The earliest art made by humans is found in Africa, in the south and in what is now the Sahara; in later millennia, as the climate shifted and the once fertile grasslands of the Sahara became a desert, populations shifted southward, crossing the Congo River Basin into southern Africa. These ancient patterns of migration are still reflected in trade routes and lines of cultural influence.

  • Art in Africa is generally created to serve a specific purpose, usually relating to the life of the community, to the needs of an individual, or to the supernatural. African art is often created with the purpose of communication, rather than representation. Artworks often refer more to beliefs and ideas than to specific images or things. Their production can be seen as a collaboration between the person who "prescribes" the work's creation, the person who commissions it for personal use, and the person who actually creates it.

  • Many objects are made for use in rituals, or in performances involving costumes and music. Often these involve rites of passage, such as the passage from adolescence to adulthood, or the legitimation of the social and political order.

  • Westerners who began to collect African art in the nineteenth century were more interested in defining broad ethnographic categories than in identifying the specific history of an individual piece or its creator. Westerners have also tended to portray African life as static and primitive, when in fact Africans have long interacted with the outside world. European artists of the turn of the twentieth century were fascinated by the formal qualities of African art, which represented an alternative to the artistic traditions of the west, and by the idea that it was directly connected with the spiritual life of its creators in a way Western art no longer was. People of African descent in the new world and elsewhere also looked to African art as a model of expression.

Related Links:
Africa Quiz
Africa, 1100-1980 CE Architecture
AP Art History Quizzes
AP Art History Notes