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African art is a term typically used for the art of Sub-Saharan Africa. Often, casual observers tend to generalize "traditional" African art, but the continent is full of people, societies and civilizations, each with a unique visual culture. The definition may also include the art of the African Diasporas, such as the art of African Americans. Despite this diversity, there are some unifying artistic themes when considering the totality of the visual culture from the continent of Africa.
The term African art does not usually include the art of the North African areas along the Mediterranean coast, as such areas had long been part of different traditions. For more than a millennium, the art of such areas had formed part of Islamic art, although with many particular characteristics. The Art of Ethiopia, with a long Christian tradition, is also different from that of most of Africa, where Traditional African religion (with Islam in the north) was dominant until relatively recently.
Most African sculpture was historically in wood and other natural materials that have not survived from earlier than, at most, a few centuries ago; older pottery figures can be found from a number of areas. Masks are important elements in the art of many peoples, along with human figures, often highly stylized. There is a vast variety of styles, often varying within the same context of origin depending on the use of the object, but wide regional trends are apparent; sculpture is most common among "groups of settled cultivators in the areas drained by the Niger and Congo rivers" in West Africa. Direct images of deities are relatively infrequent, but masks in particular are or were often made for religious ceremonies; today many are made for tourists as "airport art". African masks were an influence on European Modernist art, which was inspired by their lack of concern for naturalistic depiction.
Later West African cultures developed bronze casting for reliefs, like the famous Benin Bronzes, to decorate palaces and for very fine naturalistic royal heads from around the Yoruba town of Ife, in terracotta as well as metal, from the 12th–14th centuries. Akan goldweights are a form of small metal sculptures produced over the period 1400–1900; some apparently represent proverbs, contributing a narrative element rare in African sculpture; and royal regalia included impressive gold sculptured elements. Many West African figures are used in religious rituals and are often coated with materials placed on them for ceremonial offerings. The Mande-speaking peoples of the same region make pieces from wood with broad, flat surfaces and arms and legs shaped like cylinders. In Central Africa, however, the main distinguishing characteristics include heart-shaped faces that are curved inward and display patterns of circles and dots.
Eastern Africans, in many areas shorter of large timber to carve, are known for Tinga Tinga paintings and Makonde sculptures. There is also tradition of producing textile art,. The culture from Great Zimbabwe left more impressive buildings than sculpture, but the eight soapstone Zimbabwe Birds appear to have had a special significance and were presumably mounted on monoliths. Modern Zimbabwean sculptors in soapstone have achieved considerable international success. Southern Africa’s oldest known clay figures date from 400 to 600 AD and have cylindrical heads with a mixture of human and animal features.
- 1 Thematic elements
- 2 Scope
- 3 Materials
- 4 History
- 5 Influence on Western art
- 6 Influence on Western architecture
- 7 Traditional art
- 8 Contemporary African art
- 9 By country or people
- 10 Mossi Masks
- 11 Bobo
- 12 See also
- 13 Notes
- 14 Sources
- 15 Further reading
- 16 External links
- Emphasis on the human figure: The human figure has always been the primary subject matter for most African art, and this emphasis even influenced certain European traditions. For example, in the fifteenth century Portugal traded with the Sapi culture near Côte d'Ivoire in West Africa, who created elaborate ivory saltcellars that were hybrids of African and European designs, most notably in the addition of the human figure (the human figure typically did not appear in Portuguese saltcellars). The human figure may symbolize the living or the dead, may reference chiefs, dancers, or various trades such as drummers or hunters, or even may be an anthropomorphic representation of a god or have other votive function. Another common theme is the inter-morphosis of human and animal.
- Visual abstraction: African artworks tend to favor visual abstraction over naturalistic representation. This is because many African artworks generalize stylistic norms. Ancient Egyptian art, also usually thought of as naturalistically depictive, makes use of highly abstracted and regimented visual canons, especially in painting, as well as the use of different colors to represent the qualities and characteristics of an individual being depicted.
- Emphasis on sculpture: African artists tend to favor three-dimensional artworks over two-dimensional works. Even many African paintings or cloth works were meant to be experienced three-dimensionally. House paintings are often seen as a continuous design wrapped around a house, forcing the viewer to walk around the work to experience it fully; while decorated cloths are worn as decorative or ceremonial garments, transforming the wearer into a living sculpture. Distinct from the static form of traditional Western sculpture African art displays animation, a readiness to move.
- Emphasis on performance art: An extension of the utilitarianism and three-dimensionality of traditional African art is the fact that much of it is crafted for use in performance contexts, rather than in static ones. For example, traditional African masks and costumes very often are used in communal, ceremonial contexts, where they are "danced." Most societies in Africa have names for their masks, but this single name incorporates not only the sculpture, but also the meanings of the mask, the dance associated with it, and the spirits that reside within. In African thought, the three cannot be differentiated.
- Nonlinear scaling: Often a small part of an African design will look similar to a larger part, such as the diamonds at different scales in the Kasai pattern at right. Louis Senghor, Senegal’s first president, referred to this as "dynamic symmetry." William Fagg, the British art historian, compared it to the logarithmic mapping of natural growth by biologist D’Arcy Thompson. More recently it has been described in terms of fractal geometry.
Until recently, the designation "African" was usually only bestowed on the arts of "Black Africa", the peoples living in Sub-Saharan Africa. The non-black peoples of North Africa, the people of the Horn of Africa, as well as the art of ancient Egypt, generally were not included under the rubric of African art. Recently, however, there has been a movement among African art historians and other scholars to include the visual culture of these areas, since all the cultures that produced them, in fact, are located within the geographic boundaries of the African continent. The notion is that by including all African cultures and their visual culture in African art, laypersons will gain a greater understanding of the continent's cultural diversity. Since there was often a confluence of traditional African, Islamic and Mediterranean cultures, scholars have found that drawing distinct divisions between Muslim areas, ancient Egypt, the Mediterranean and indigenous black African societies makes little sense. Finally, the arts of the people of the African diaspora, in Brazil, the Caribbean and the southeastern United States, have also begun to be included in the study of African art.
African art takes many forms and is made from many different materials. Jewellry is a popular art form and is used to indicate rank, affiliation with a group, or purely for aesthetics. African jewelry is made from such diverse materials as Tiger's eye stone, haematite, sisal, coconut shell, beads and ebony wood. Sculptures can be wooden, ceramic or carved out of stone like the famous Shona sculptures. Various forms of textiles are made including chitenge, mud cloth and kente cloth. Mosaics made of butterfly wings or colored sand are popular in west Africa.
The origins of African art lie long before recorded history. African rock art in the Sahara in Niger preserves 6000-year-old carvings. Along with sub-Saharan Africa, the western cultural arts, ancient Egyptian paintings and artifacts, and indigenous southern crafts also contributed greatly to African art. Often depicting the abundance of surrounding nature, the art was often abstract interpretations of animals, plant life, or natural designs and shapes. The Nubian Kingdom of Kush in modern Sudan was in close and often hostile contact with Egypt, and produced monumental sculpture mostly derivative of styles that did not lead to the north. In West Africa, the earliest known sculptures are from the Nok culture which thrived between 500 BC and 500 AD in modern Nigeria, with clay figures typically with elongated bodies and angular shapes.
More complex methods of producing art were developed in sub-Saharan Africa around the 10th century, some of the most notable advancements include the bronzework of Igbo Ukwu and the terracottas and metalworks of Ile Ife Bronze and brass castings, often ornamented with ivory and precious stones, became highly prestigious in much of West Africa, sometimes being limited to the work of court artisans and identified with royalty, as with the Benin Bronzes.
Influence on Western art
Westerners had long misunderstood African art as "primitive." The term carries with it negative connotations of underdevelopment and poverty. Colonization and the slave trade in Africa during the nineteenth century set up a Western understanding hinged on the belief that African art lacked technical ability due to its low socioeconomic status.
At the start of the twentieth century, artists like Picasso, Matisse, Vincent van Gogh, Paul Gauguin and Modigliani became aware of, and inspired by, African art. In a situation where the established avant garde was straining against the constraints imposed by serving the world of appearances, African Art demonstrated the power of supremely well organised forms; produced not only by responding to the faculty of sight, but also and often primarily, the faculty of imagination, emotion and mystical and religious experience. These artists saw in African Art a formal perfection and sophistication unified with phenomenal expressive power. The study of and response to African Art, by artists at the beginning of the twentieth century facilitated an explosion of interest in the abstraction, organisation and reorganisation of forms, and the exploration of emotional and psychological areas hitherto unseen in Western Art. By these means, the status of visual art was changed. Art ceased to be merely and primarily aesthetic, but became also a true medium for philosophic and intellectual discourse, and hence more truly and profoundly aesthetic than ever before.
Influence on Western architecture
European architecture was strongly influenced by African Art. Pioneers like Antonio Sant'Elia, Le Corbusier, Pier Luigi Nervi, Theo van Doesburg and Erich Mendelsohn were also sculptures and painters; Futurist, Rationalist and Expressionist architecture discovered in Africa a new repertoire of proto-symbols; in a formal level, the space is now composed by single forms that do not only refer to human proportions and scale, but to its psychology; surfaces are modelled by geometric patterns. During the 50's, European architects transformed buildings into big-scale sculptures, replacing unnecessary decoration (so criticized by Adolf Loos), by integrating textured murals and large bas-reliefs in walls. During the 60's, African Art influenced Brutalism, both in language and symbolism, particularly in the late Le Corbusier, Oscar Niemeyer and Paul Rudolph. The powerful work of John Lautner reminds of artifacts from the Yoruba; the sensual projects of Patricio Pouchulu honour the bare wooden sculptures of the Dogon and Baoulé. Unlike Europe, African art never established boundaries between body art, painting, sculpture and architecture; thanks to this, Western architects can now extend towards different art expressions.
Traditional art describes the most popular and studied forms of African art which are typically found in museum collections.
Wooden masks, which might either be human or animal or of mythical creatures, are one of the most commonly found forms of art in western Africa. In their original contexts, ceremonial masks are used for celebrations, initiations, crop harvesting, and war preparation. The masks are worn by a chosen or initiated dancer. During the mask ceremony the dancer goes into deep trance, and during this state of mind he "communicates" with his ancestors. The masks can be worn in three different ways: vertically covering the face: as helmets, encasing the entire head, and as crest, resting upon the head, which was commonly covered by material as part of the disguise. African masks often represent a spirit and it is strongly believed that the spirit of the ancestors possesses the wearer. Most African masks are made with wood, and can be decorated with: Ivory, animal hair, plant fibers (such as raffia), pigments (like kaolin), stones, and semi-precious gems also are included in the masks.
Statues, usually of wood or ivory, are often inlaid with cowrie shells, metal studs and nails. Decorative clothing is also commonplace and comprises another large part of African art. Among the most complex of African textiles is the colorful, strip-woven Kente cloth of Ghana. Boldly patterned mudcloth is another well known technique.
Contemporary African art
Africa is home to a thriving contemporary art fine art culture. This has been sadly understudied until recently, due to scholars' and art collectors' emphasis on traditional art. Notable modern artists include El Anatsui, Marlene Dumas, William Kentridge, Karel Nel, Kendell Geers, Yinka Shonibare, Zerihun Yetmgeta, Odhiambo Siangla, Olu Oguibe, Lubaina Himid, and Bili Bidjocka, Henry Tayali. Art bienniales are held in Dakar, Senegal, and Johannesburg, South Africa. Many contemporary African artists are represented in museum collections, and their art may sell for high prices at art auctions. Despite this, many contemporary African artists tend to have difficult times finding a market for their work. Many contemporary African arts borrow heavily from traditional predecessors. Ironically, this emphasis on abstraction is seen by Westerners as an imitation of European and American cubist and totemic artists, such as Pablo Picasso, Amedeo Modigliani and Henri Matisse, who, in the early twentieth century, were heavily influenced by traditional African art. This period was critical to the evolution of Western modernism in visual arts, symbolized by Picasso's breakthrough painting "Les Demoiselles d'Avignon."
Contemporary African art was pioneered in the 1950s and 1960s in South Africa by artists like Irma Stern, Cyril Fradan, Walter Battiss and through galleries like the Goodman Gallery in Johannesburg. More recently European galleries like the October Gallery in London and collectors such as Jean Pigozzi, Artur Walther and Gianni Baiocchi in Rome have helped expand the interest in the subject. Numerous exhibitions at the Museum for African Art in New York and the African Pavilion at the 2007 Venice Biennale, which showcased the Sindika Dokolo African Collection of Contemporary Art, have gone a long way to countering many of the myths and prejudices that haunt Contemporary African Art. The appointment of Nigerian Okwui Enwezor as artistic director of Documenta 11 and his African centred vision of art propelled the careers of countless African artists onto the international stage.
A wide range of more-or-less traditional forms of art, or adaptations of traditional style to contemporary taste are made for sale to tourists and others, including so-called "airport art". A number of vigorous popular traditions assimilate Western influences into African styles such as the elaborate fantasy coffins in shapes such as airplanes, cars or animals of West African cities, and the banners of clubs.
By country or people
|This section does not cite any references or sources. (October 2012)|
The art of Mali is somewhat more abstract than that of Kenya. Artwork focuses significantly on the genital area, whereby the male and female forms are artistically compared through an abstract perception. The penis is also a symbolisation and celebration of the male figure, which is culturally, the dominant sex in Mali.
The Bambara people (Bambara: Bamanankaw) adapted many artistic traditions and began to create display pieces. Before money was the main drive of creation of their artworks they used their abilities solely as a sacred craft for display of spiritual pride, religious beliefs and display of customs. Example artworks include the Bamana n’tomo mask. Other statues were created for people such as hunters and farmers so others could leave offerings after long farming seasons or group hunts. The stylistic variations in Bambara art are extreme sculptures, masks and headdresses display either stylized or realistic features, and either weathered or encrusted patinas. Until quite recently, the function of Bambara pieces was shrouded in mystery, but in the last twenty years field studies have revealed that certain types of figures and headdresses were associated with a number of the societies that structure Bambara life. During the 1970s a group of approximately twenty figures, masks and TjiWara headdresses belonging to the so-called 'Segou style' were identified. The style is distinct and recognizable by its typical flat faces, arrow-shaped noses, all-over body triangular scarifications and, on the figures, splayed hands.
There are three major and one minor type of Bambara mask. The first type, used by the N'tomo society, has a typical comb-like structure above the face, is worn during dances and may be covered with cowrie shells. The second type of mask, associated with the Komo society, has a spherical head with two antelope horns on the top and an enlarged, flattened mouth. They are used during dances, but some have a thick encrusted patina acquired during other ceremonies in which libations are poured over them.
The third type has connections with the Nama society and is carved in the form of an articulated bird's head, while the fourth, minor type, represents a stylized animal head and is used by the Kore society. Other Bambara masks are known to exist, but unlike those described above, they cannot be linked to specific societies or ceremonies. Bambara carvers have established a reputation for the zoomorphic headdresses worn by Tji-Wara society members]. Although they are all different, they all display a highly abstract body, often incorporating a zig-zag motif, which represents the sun's course from east to west, and a head with two large horns. Bambara members of the Tji-Wara society wear the headdress while dancing in their fields at sowing time, hoping to increase the crop yield.
Bambara statuettes are primarily used during the annual ceremonies of the Guan society. During these ceremonies, a group of up to seven figures, measuring from 80 to 130 cm in height, are removed from their sanctuaries by the elder members of the society. The sculptures are washed, re-oiled and sacrifices are offered to them at their shrines. These figures - some of which date from between the 14th and 16th centuries - usually display a typical crested coiffure, often adorned with a talisman.
Two of these figures were ascribed great significance: a seated or standing maternity figure called Guandousou - known in the West as 'Bambara Queen' - and a male figure called Guantigui, who usually appears holding a knife. The two figures were surrounded by Guannyeni attendant figures standing or seated in various positions, holding a vessel, or a musical instrument, or their breasts. During the 1970s, numerous fakes from Bamako which were based on these sculptures entered the market. They were produced in Bamako.
Other Bambara figures, called Dyonyeni, are thought to be associated with either the southern Dyo society or the Kwore society. These female or hermaphrodite figures usually appear with geometric features such as large conical breasts and measure between 40 and 85 cm in height. The blacksmith members of the Dyo society used them during dances to celebrate the end of their initiation ceremonies. They were handled, held by dancers and placed in the middle of the ceremonial circle.
Among the corpus of Bambara figures, Boh sculptures are perhaps the best known. These statues represent a highly stylized animal or human figure, and are made of wood which is repeatedly covered in thick layers of earth impregnated with sacrificial materials such as millet, chicken or goat blood, kola nuts and alcoholic drinks. They were employed by the Kono and the Komo societies and served as receptacles for spiritual forces, and could in turn be used for apotropaic purposes.
Each special creative trait a person obtained was seen as a different way to please higher spirits.
Dogon art is primarily sculpture. Dogon art revolves around religious values, ideals, and freedoms (Laude, 19). Dogon sculptures are not made to be seen publicly, and are commonly hidden from the public eye within the houses of families, sanctuaries, or kept with the Hogon (Laude, 20). The importance of secrecy is due to the symbolic meaning behind the pieces and the process by which they are made.
Themes found throughout Dogon sculpture consist of figures with raised arms, superimposed bearded figures, horsemen, stools with caryatids, women with children, figures covering their faces, women grinding pearl millet, women bearing vessels on their heads, donkeys bearing cups, musicians, dogs, quadruped-shaped troughs or benches, figures bending from the waist, mirror-images, aproned figures, and standing figures (Laude, 46-52). Signs of other contacts and origins are evident in Dogon art. The Dogon people were not the first inhabitants of the cliffs of Bandiagara. Influence from Tellem art is evident in Dogon art because of its rectilinear designs (Laude, 24).
Dogon art is extremely versatile, although common stylistic characteristics – such as a tendency towards stylization – are apparent on the statues. Their art deals with the myths whose complex ensemble regulates the life of the individual. The sculptures are preserved in innumerable sites of worship, personal or family altars, altars for rain, altars to protect hunters, in market. As a general characterization of Dogon statues, one could say that they render the human body in a simplified way, reducing it to its essentials. Some are extremely elongated with emphasis on geometric forms. The subjective impression is one of immobility with a mysterious sense of a solemn gravity and serene majesty, although conveying at the same time a latent movement. Dogon sculpture recreates the hermaphroditic silhouettes of the Tellem, featuring raised arms and a thick patina made of blood and millet beer. The four Nommo couples, the mythical ancestors born of the god Amma, ornament stools, pillars or men’s meeting houses, door locks, and granary doors. The primordial couple is represented sitting on a stool, the base of which depicts the earth while the upper surface represents the sky; the two are interconnected by the Nommo. The seated female figures, their hands on their abdomen, are linked to the fertility cult, incarnating the first ancestor who died in childbirth, and are the object of offerings of food and sacrifices by women who are expecting a child. Kneeling statues of protective spirits are placed at the head of the dead to absorb their spiritual strength and to be their intermediaries with the world of the dead, into which they accompany the deceased before once again being placed on the shrines of the ancestors. Horsemen are remainders of the fact that, according to myth, the horse was the first animal present on earth. The Dogon style has evolved into a kind of cubism: ovoid head, squared shoulders, tapered extremities, pointed breasts, forearms, and thighs on a parallel plane, hairdos stylized by three or four incised lines. Dogon sculptures serve as a physical medium in initiations and as an explanation of the world. They serve to transmit an understanding to the initiated, who will decipher the statue according to the level of their knowledge. Carved animal figures, such as dogs and ostriches, are placed on village foundation altars to commemorate sacrificed animals, while granary doors, stools and house posts are also adorned with figures and symbols.
There are nearly eighty styles of masks, but their basic characteristic is great boldness in the use of geometric shapes, independent of the various animals they are supposed to represent. The structure of a large number of masks is based on the interplay of vertical and horizontal lines and shapes. Another large group has triangular, conic shapes. All masks have large geometric eyes and stylized features. The masks are often polychrome, but on many the color is lost; after the ceremonies they were left on the ground and quickly deteriorated because of termites and other conditions. The Dogon continue an ancient masquerading tradition, which commemorates the origin of death. According to their myths, death came into the world as a result of primeval man’s transgressions against the divine order. Dama memorial ceremonies are held to accompany the dead into the ancestral realm and restore order to the universe. The performance of masqueraders – sometimes as many as 400 – at these ceremonies is considered absolutely necessary. In the case of the dama, the timing, types of masks involved, and other ritual elements are often specific to one or two villages and may not resemble those seen in locations only several miles distant. The masks also appear during baga-bundo rites performed by small numbers of masqueraders before the burial of a male Dogon. Dogon masks evoke the form of animals associated with their mythology, yet their significance is only understood by the highest ranking cult members whose role is to explain the meaning of each mask to a captivated audience.
Kenyan art has changed much in the post colonial years. Painters emerged in the 1950s after training in Makerere University College; they include such artists as Elimo Njau Elizabeth Karuga. The 1970s saw the self-taught African painters mostly inspired by the demand for original African paintings. These include the Ancient Soi, Macua Ngethe, and Moses Gichuiri. Kenyatta University also produced artists but more so taught in western art styles of painting. Among these include John Dianga and Moses Gichuiri. Others include the late Dr. Sylvester Maina, Stephen Mayienga and others. The ‘80s was the produced many contemporary artists. From Teachers Training colleges came Stephen Mbatia, Rix Butama, Shake Makelele, and Meube to name but a few. From the University of Nairobi School of Fine Art and Design came the following artists: Bulinya Martins and Sarah Shiundu. The two by virtue of having learned many basic techniques in design are highly innovative both in style, use of color and execution. Unlike most contemporary Kenyan artist they paint using oils, acrylics and watercolors and/or combination. Pure abstract art is rare in Kenya. Most artists paint semi-abstract with distorted human figures. The initial paintings by Bulinya Martins were a combination of cubism and original African abstractions. The late Mainga’s abstractions were 2D and highly embellished on leather. As for material, the use of Acrylics and oil is more frequent than watercolors. Oil paint is by far the preferred medium today and it lasts much longer. The art items in Kenya include sisal baskets, elephant hair bracelets, Maasai bead jewelry, musical instruments, silver and gold jewelry, soapstone sculptures, wooden carvings, tribal masks, Maasai figurines, paintings, prints and sculptures. These art items are available in the arts and craft markets and shops throughout the main tourist centers of Kenya.
Cloth in Kenya also represents interesting art, with batik cloth, kangas (women's wraparound skirts) with patterns and even Kenyan proverbs printed on them and kikois (type of sarong for men) that come in many different colors and textiles. Kenya offers African jewelry containing cowry shells, and soapstone carvings from Western Kenya, carved by the Gusii and Abagusii ethnic groups in Kisii stone.
The Fang people make masks and basketry, carvings, and sculptures. Fang art is characterized by organized clarity and distinct lines and shapes. Bieri, boxes to hold the remains of ancestors, are carved with protective figures. Masks are worn in ceremonies and for hunting. The faces are painted white with black features. Myene art centers around Myene rituals for death. Female ancestors are represented by white painted masks worn by the male relatives. The Bekota use brass and copper to cover their carvings. They use baskets to hold ancestral remains. Tourism is rare in Gabon, and unlike in other African countries, art is not spurred on by commerce.
In the northern part of Botswana, women in the villages of Etsha and Gumare are noted for their skill at crafting baskets from Mokola Palm and local dyes. The baskets are generally woven into three types: large, lidded baskets used for storage large, open baskets for carrying objects on the head or for winnowing threshed grain, and smaller plates for winnowing pounded grain. The artistry of these baskets is being steadily enhanced through color use and improved designs as they are increasingly produced for commercial use.
The oldest evidence ancient paintings from both Botswana and South Africa. Depictions of hunting, both animal and human figures were made by the San people dating before civilization over 20,000 years old within the Kalahari desert.
Burkina Faso is a small, landlocked country north of Ghana and south of Mali and Niger. Economically, it is one of the four or five poorest countries in the world. Culturally, it is extremely rich. In part this is because so few people from Burkina have become Muslim or Christian. Many of the ancient artistic traditions for which Africa is so well known have been preserved in Burkina Faso because so many people continue to honor the ancestral spirits, and the spirits of nature. In great part they honor the spirits through the use of masks and carved figures. Many of the countries to the north of Burkina Faso had become predominantly Muslim, while many of the countries to the south of Burkina Faso are heavily Christian. In contrast many of the people of Burkina Faso continue to offer prayers and sacrifices to the spirits of nature and to the spirits of their ancestors. The result is that they continue to use the sorts of art that we see in museums in Europe and America.
One of the principal obstacles to understanding the art of Burkina Faso, including that of the Bwa, has been a confusion between the styles of the Bwa, "gurunsi", and Mossi, and a confusion of the Bwa people with their neighbors to the west the Bobo people. this confusion was the result of the use by French colonial officers of Jula interpreters at the turn of the century. these interpreters considered the two peoples to be the same and so referred to the Bobo as "Bobo-Fing" and to the Bwa as "Bobo-Oule." In fact these two peoples are not related at all. Their languages are quite different, their social systems are quite different, and certainly their art is quite different. In terms of artistic styles the confusion stems from the fact that the Bwa, "gurunsi'" and Mossi make masks that are covered with red white and black geometric graphic patterns. This is simply the style of the Voltaic or Gur peoples, and also includes the Dogon and other peoples who speak Voltaic languages.
Masks occupy an important position in the religious life of the Nyonyose (the ancient farmers and spiritual segment of Mossi society). The Nakomse (chief class) do not use masks. The use of masks in initiations and funerals is quite typical of all the Voltaic or Gur-speaking peoples, including the Nyonyose, Lela, Winiama, Nouna, Bwaba, and Dogon. Masks appear at burials to observe on behalf of the ancestors that proper burial procedures were carried out. They then appear at several funeral or memorial services held at regular intervals over the few years after an elder has died. Masks attend to honor the deceased and to verify that the spirit of the deceased merits admission into the world of ancestors. Without a proper funeral the spirit remains near the home and causes trouble for his/her descendants. Masks are often carved of the wood of Ceiba pentandra, the faux kapokier. They are carved in three major styles that correspond to the styles of the ancient people who were conquered in 1500 by the invading Nakomse and integrated into a new Mossi society: In the north masks are vertical planks with a round concave or convex face. In the southwest masks represent animals such as antelope, bush buffalo, and various strange creatures, are painted red, white and black. In the east, around Boulsa , masks have tall posts above the face to which fiber is attached, . Female masks have two pairs of round mirrors for eyes, and small masks, representing Yali, "the child" have two vertical horns. All Nyonyose masks are worn with thick costumes made of the fiber of the wild hemp, Hibiscus cannabinus, In the old days only the northern Nyonyose in Yatenga and Kaya, and the eastern people around Boulsa allowed their masks to be photographed. The people in the southwest forbade photography because it did not conform to the "yaaba soore", the path of the ancestors. Mask characters include Balinga, the Fulani woman, katre, the hyena, nyaka, the small antelope, Wan pelega, the large antelope, and many others. Now, however, masks from all three areas appear at annual public festivals such festivals as SIAO (Fr. Salon international de l’Artisanat de Ouagadougou), Week of the Culture, and the Atypical Nights of Koudougou (Les Nuits Atypiques de Koudougou). Each Nyonyose family has its own mask, and they are charged with protecting the masks to this day. Masks are very sacred, and are a link to the spirits of ancestors and of nature.
The Bwa people live in central Burkina Faso. in years past they have been associated erroneously with the Bobo. In fact they are not related to the Bobo and all, and their languages and culture are quite different. The Bwa people speak a language in the voltaic family of languages, while the Bobo speak a language in the Mande family. the confusion was caused in the past by the inability of the French to distinguish between the two people through their Jula interpreters.
The Bwa people are very similar to other peoples in Burkina Faso in their lack of centralized political authority. Traditionally they have no chiefs. In contrast the Mossi people who live just to the east, have a strong system of chiefs and kings. the result is that while the Mossi are conservative and resistant to change, the Bwa are open-minded and receptive to change.
The Bwa produce several different kinds of masks, including leaf masks dedicated to the god named Dwo, and wooden masks dedicated to the god Lanle. The style of the Bwa is well-known to collectors and scholars around the world. These are wooden masks that represent animals, or tall broad plank masks that represent the spirit Lanle. They are covered with red white and black graphic patterns that represent the religious laws that people in the villages must obey if they are to receive God's blessings. These well-known patterns are not decorative, they are graphic patterns in a system of writing that can be read by anyone in the community who has been initiated. They include black-and-white checkerboards, that look like a target, zig-zag patterns that represent the path of the ancestors, X patterns, and crescents.
Masks are used in a variety of different contexts. They appear at funerals of senior elders both male and female. They appear at initiation's when young men and women are taught the meanings of the masks and the importance of the spirits and enter adult village society. They even appear on market days when their performances attract visitors to the local market, where they are likely to spend more cash, plus helping the economy of the community.
The region southwest of the Mossi Plateau is occupied by a number of autochthonous farmer groups that are referred to collectively by the Mossi, and in most studies, as gurunsi. The singular, gurunga, indicates that the word is of Moré origin (a word of the Moré "-ga, -se" class). The peoples that comprise the so-called gurunsi peoples include the Nuna, Nunuma, Léla, Winiama, Sisala, Kaséna, Nankana, and Kusasé who share similar Gur languages. The Léla speak Lélé, the Nuna speak Nuni, the Winiama speak Winien, and the Kaséna speak Kasem. Most peoples in the area consider gurunsi a pejorative form of address, and much prefer to be called by their ethnic name. For this reason I have used the name gurunsiin italics and only as a convenient "handle". I have used the name Nunuma to refer to the Nuna peoples northwest of the Black Volta, and Nuna for those southeast of the river, because these peoples are closely related but produce masks that differ slightly in style. This distinction may or may not be valid historically and ethnographically.
The major producers of masks are the Léla, Nunuma, and Winiama in the north, and the Nuna in the south. The Sisala also once used masks, but they have virtually disappeared. The Léla, Nunuma, Winiama and Nuna have influenced the styles, use and meaning of masks among their Bwa and Mossi neighbors. Masks carved of wood represent bush spirits, or spirits that take animal forms. These animal forms may be more naturalistic among the Nunuma and Nuna or more stylized among the Léla and Winiama. The animals that occur most frequently are the antelope, buffalo, bush pig, hornbill, hyena, and the serpent. Some masks represent spirits that have no recognizable animal form.Whatever type is represented, masks have large round eyes surrounded by concentric circles, a short snout for animal masks, or a large, protuberant mouth for supernatural spirits. They are covered with geometric patterns painted red, white, and black, repainted every year, except among the Winiama. Some masks are surmounted by a tall plank.
Masks represent protective spirits that can take animal forms or can appear as strange beings. These spirits watch over a family, clan or community, and, if the rules for their propitiation are followed correctly, provide for the fertility, health, and prosperity of the owners. Thus the masks provide for the continuity of life in the gurunsi world. Almost any unusual event can justify consultations with a diviner and the carving of a mask to represent the spirit that is responsible. When the owner of a mask dies the mask may be passed on to his son, or it may be retired to the lineage spirit house where it slowly decays. Years later a diviner may prescribe a new mask in the same form, and the old mask is taken to the local smith who produces a replacement. Then, such old masks often are sold on the antiquities market. Masks appear at numerous events throughout the dry season. They dance to drive evil forces away from the community. They participate in the funerals of male and female elders. Every three, five, or seven years, the most sacred masks of the community participate, including young men's' initiations and every seven years in sacrifices to ensure the well-being of the village. Masks may appear for special reasons throughout the year. Entertainment masks appear on almost every market day to dance for the crowds of visitors. The sacred wankr masks do not appear at such popular, public performances.
The Lobi people live in southwestern Burkina Faso and northern Ivory Coast and Ghana. They are extremely resistant to any sort of centralized political authority. Instead their communities are based on the laws of God. The central character in every Lobi community is the religious specialist named the Thildar. This diviner is responsible for communication with the spirits that govern the community and protect members of each family from accidents, disease, violence, and all of the multiple threats people encounter in the harsh environment of West Africa.
The Lobi carved represent the nature spirits whom they called Thil with figures that can be carved of wood, modeled from Clay, or cast in brass. These figures are called Boteba, and are usually housed in a dark shrine in the most remote space in the back of the family home. Larger clay figures may be kept outside, where because of the material from which they are made they are safe from theft. Brass figures are often worn on the body by members of the family.
Each of these figures displays different gestures or poses, some of them may have two or even three heads, some female figures carry an infant under one arm. These unique features represent the particular talent or power of the spiritual being that they embody. A figure with two heads is twice as quick to recognize threat and to deal with it. A figure with an infant has the power to bring fertility to the women of the family. A figure holding one arm up blocks the entrance of malevolent spirits to the family home.
In much of the literature on African art the group that lives in the area of Bobo-Dioulasso is called Bobo-Fing. These people call themselves Bobo. They speak a Mandé language. The Bobo number about 110,000 people, with the great majority in Burkina Faso, although the area occupied by the Bobo extends north into Mali.The Bobo are far from homogeneous. They are an ancient amalgamation of several peoples who have assembled around a number of core clans that do not preserve any oral traditions of immigration into the area. Their language and culture are more closely related to those of their Mandé neighbors to the north, the Bamana and Minianka, than to their Voltaic neighbors thegurunsi and Mossi, but they should be thought of as a southern extension of the Mandé people, that live in what is now Burkina Faso, rather than an intrusive Mandé group that has recently penetrated the region. Although over 41% of Bobo lineages claim a foreign origin, they also claim to be autochthonous.
The Bobo creator God is called Wuro. He cannot be described and is not represented by sculpture. Bobo cosmogonic myths, wuro da fere, describe the creation of the world by Wuro and the ordering of his creations, which are placed in basic opposing pairs: man/spirits, male/female, village/bush, domesticated/wild, culture/nature, safety/danger, cold/hot, farmer/blacksmith. The balances between forces as they were created by Wuro are precarious, and it is easy for man, through the simplest daily acts, to pollute his world and throw the forces out of balance. Even farming, in which crops are gathered in the bush and brought into the village, can unbalance the precarious equilibrium between culture/nature, village/bush. The following summary describes the relationship between Wuro, man, and the smith.
The Bobo use masks in three major contexts: masks appear at harvest time in annual rites called birewa dâga. Masks participate in the male initiation, named yele dâga, which is their major function. Finally, they participate in the burial (syebi) and the funeral rites (syekwe) of people who have been killed by Dwo, or of the elder priests of Dwo. This is a secondary function, and not all masks of all Bobo clans attend these rites. Masks seem to participate in funerals much more frequently in the Syankoma area in the south, near Bobo-Dioulasso, than in the north.Leaf masks representing the initial and universal form of Dwo serve to integrate the individual into human society and to link the community of man with the natural world; fiber masks fix the individual in a social grouping, dedicated to one of the later forms of Dwo. These masks are important agents of socialization. The significance of these lessons is impressed on each new generation in the major institution of initiation.
The different levels of knowledge are explained to Bobo boys in several steps spread out over a period of fifteen years. Masks play an essential role in initiation because they reestablish and reinforce the cosmic order created by Wuro, and restore the balance and the rhythms of the natural world and of the community. Each of the new steps in the initiation is punctuated by important ceremonies when the initiates dance with several types of masks.
The Baoulé, the Senoufo and the Dan peoples are skilled at carving wood and each culture produces wooden masks in wide variety. The Ivorian people use masks to represent animals in caricature to depict deities, or to represent the souls of the departed.
As the masks are held to be of great spiritual power, it is considered a taboo for anyone other than specially trained persons or chosen ones to wear or possess certain masks. These ceremonial masks are each thought to have a soul, or life force, and wearing these masks is thought to transform the wearer into the entity the mask represents.
Côte d'Ivoire also has modern painters and illustrators. Gilbert G. Groud criticizes the ancient beliefs in black magic, as held with the spiritual masks mentioned above, in his illustrated book Magie Noire.
Tinga Tinga art has roots in decorating hut walls in central and south Tanzania. It was first in 1968 when Edward Said Tingatinga started to paint on wooden sheets with enamel colours when Tinga Tinga art became known. The art of the Makonde must be subdivided into different areas. The Makonde are known as master carvers throughout East Africa, and their statuary that can be found being sold in tourist markets and in museums alike. They traditionally carve household objects, figures and masks. Since the 1950s years the socalled Modern Makonde Art has been developed. An essential step was the turning to abstract figures, mostly spirits (Shetani) that play a special role. Makonde are also part of the important contemporary artists of Africa today. An outstanding position is taken by George Lilanga.
Persisting for 3,000 years and thirty dynasties, the "official" art of Ancient Egypt was centred on the state religion of the time. The art ranged from stone carvings of both massive statues and small statuettes, to wall art that depicted both history and mythology. In 2600 BC the maturity of Egyptian carving reached a peak it did not reach again for another 1,500 years during the reign of Rameses II.
A lot of the art possesses a certain stiffness, with figures poised upright and rigid in a most regal fashion. Bodily proportions also appear to be mathematically derived, giving rise to a sense of fantastic perfection in the figures depicted. This most likely was used to reinforce the godliness of the ruling caste.
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