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.
What is African Art?
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. Since the late 19th century there has been an increasing amount of African art in Western collections, the finest pieces of which are now prominently displayed.
Our museum staff maintains the collection with great care, and new items are added regularly thanks to our generous donors. We have listed a few of our favorite pieces from the permanent exhibit here:
The Pende or Phende (ethnonym: Bapende or Baphende; singular Mupende or Muphende) are an ethnic group found in the south-western Democratic Republic of Congo also in the Kasai Occidental province around the diamond mines of Tshikapa, and especially in the Kwilu District.
The Pende are known for their xylophone-based music, and their dances. Dancers traditionally wear colorful masks and Mungandji costumes made of raffia, as well as hair dresses that resemble the shapes of Phende huts.[Traditional dance ceremonies are often held in Kikwit, the largest city of the Kwilu province. Pende sculptors are also well known for their ability to give a fluid surface to their ivory pendants (badges) portraying human faces.