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African Tribal Art
The arts in Africa date back at least 6,000 years. Rock carvings from the Nigerian Sahara region are the oldest preserved art forms known at this time.
African tribal art is almost always three dimensional. The early beginnings of this sculptural art can be found in the Nok culture in Nigeria, with sculptures dating back to 500 BCE.
Abstraction is another important element of African tribal art. The abundance of nature is represented by many African tribal art forms featuring animals and plant life or designs and shapes that occur in nature.
Even though there is an abundance of African tribal art that features the world of nature, there is no subject more widely depicted than the human form. African tribal art covers a wide diversity of styles, time periods, peoples, and place but one unifying theme is the fascination with the human figure. As most African tribal art is a representation of the subject as opposed to the depiction, even art featuring the human element is abstract.
The concept of art for art’s sake may be a new concept in art appreciation, especially when compared with traditional African tribal art. In Africa, so much of the art is created to symbolically represent objects and creatures in the natural world, ancestral spirits, and to relay tribal history. Many art objects, especially tribal masks, can be considered performance art, as they were created as sacred objects used in tribal rituals and ceremonies.
During the 10th century, African tribal art underwent a period of advancement as new technologies were developed. Metallurgy became a popular medium of the arts, with some tribes especially noted for their works in bronze and brass.
Some of the most famous painters of the Western world were inspired by African tribal art. Influences from Africa can be found in works by van Gogh, Gauguin, Modigliani, Matisse, and Picasso. These artists saw the importance of using the emotion and imagination in abstract ways that traditional Western art did not.
Art historians today consider the African diaspora a turning point in art history, whereby traditional African tribal art was spread to such far-flung locations as Brazil, the Caribbean, and the United States, where it influenced the local artworks of these regions.
Indeed, it is possible to trace the routes of the African diaspora by studying traditional art around the world before and after the arrival of Africans. The African tribal art influence brought a fresh, new approach to the world of art, wherever it went.