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AFRICAN ART: THE HISTORY

The arts of Africa constitute one of the most diverse legacies on earth. While many observers tend to generalize "traditional" African art, the continent is full of peoples, societies, and civilizations, each with a unique visual culture.


From c. 6000 B.C.E., rock drawings in Africa have included representations of animals and hunters. From the beginning of tribal differentiation, tribal art has become a way of isolating one tribe from another, and tribal art can take the form of scarification, (to create a design on the skin by means of shallow cuts that are sometimes rubbed with a colorant or irritant to enhance the resulting scar tissue), body painting, or sculptural masks used in religious ceremonies. Diversity also appears in separate geographical regions, where natural resources controlled the materials used, while tribal power, wealth, or sophistication was responsible for the type of objects produced.

Often, African art production has been related to ritual or tribal ceremonies, as well as serving more secular decorative functions. However, it is not always easy to determine the function of a particular work. In many tribes, the artist had a high status, but the artist would not necessarily have been the equivalent of the western fine artist who relied on patronage or the marketplace to regulate their production.

In the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, European colonizers "discovered" African art and it was embraced by Modernist artists for its lack of pretension and exciting formal qualities. With the Westernization of much of African society, "traditional" art became commercialized and sold as souvenirs. While from the 1920s, the growth of African art colleges in more modernized sections of Africa has led a number of African artists to adopt Western influences in their work. At the same time, more-established African artists have seen the sale price of their work increase as it became the object of serious artistic consideration.

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