An Artist's Perspective


Tribal and Contemporary African Artwork








Or is it?


Henry Moore Three Standing Figures, 1953 Bronze, including base 73.2 x 68 x 29 cm Peggy Guggenheim Collection Nasher Sculpture Garden 76.2553 PG 194

From 1950 to 1956 Henry Moore explored the theme of the standing figure, inspired initially by the cypress tree and campanile of the Italian landscape.

Three Standing Figures comes midway in a series that climaxed in one of Moore's most powerful works, the Glenkiln Cross (1956).

The figures equivocate between abstract form, natural motifs such as worn rock or dried bone, and human gesture.

In particular the thrusting arms of the central figure evoke the despair of one of Rodin's Burghers of Calais, while the holes signifying breasts in the left hand figure survive from Cubist sculptural language.


The pectoral shelf of this figure, the effect of shapes piled on top of each other, and the thin bony legs recall Moore's earlier treatments of the vertical form, while the thrusting pelvises and horizontal gouges of all three figures look forward to the torsions that mark the Glenkiln Cross.






Sankhoi Art
Price: (Viewing only) $7,450
Material: Rock Basalt Made in: The Drakensberg - South Africa Tour Available from: Classic Africa



Price: $1,134 Material: Ebony wood Made in: Zimbabwe

Shona Art
Mother & Baby Elephant - Price $1,134 Material: Serpentine Stone Made in: Zimbabwe

Family - Price $202 Material: Verdite Stone Made in: Zimbabwe

Chokwe Tribal Art
Tribal Mask - Price $227 Material: Walnut Wood Made in: Zaire
All available for purchase from
African Artwork






African Art from other Times

The Fon people of the former kingdom of Dahomey are famous for the appliqué cloth through which they succeeded in immortalizing the past glory of their ancestors.
The Benin Kingdom was famous for its bronzes which they cast using the cire-perdue, or ancient 'lost wax', method.
Memorial heads were commissioned by the Benin royalty in honour of their ancestors and kept on an altar in their palaces, along with other castings.

In 1897 a British expedition sacked and destroyed the city of Benin to avenge the death of an English consul who had been killed as a result of his violating the orders of the Benin King that had forbidden foreigners from entering the city during the time when the people were holding festivals in honour of their ancestors.
Thousands of works of the Benin arts were taken as booty and were sold in London to cover the cost of the expedition.
Most are held now by private collectors or housed in museums - the British Museum and the Lagos National Museum are two museums that have memorial heads of Iyoba Idia, the Queen Mother of Benin.
Clay sculpture is widely diffused over West Africa and notable works are from the Nok culture in Nigeria which existed from 500bc-200ad, the Koma from north Ghana (700-1500), the Djenne area of Mali (1000-1200), the Sao culture from the Cameroons (1000-1200), the Ife culture from Nigeria (1100-1400), the Benin culture, and the Akan-speaking part of Ghana.
The Yoruba people from Nigeria made beaded crowns, ada ileke; beaded boots, bata ileke; beaded containers, ibo ileke; and beaded fans, abebe ileke. These were made in the early 1900s and examples can be found in museums. The crown is the most significant emblem and embodiment of authority worn by the Yoruba kings and was worn during their public ceremonies as part of his regalia.
The art from North Africa, Ethiopia, and west coast Africa show Arab, Muslim, and Egyptian influences. And the awele or mancala game boards are often regarded as works of art in their own right.


Gold was worked by the Asante in Ghana and worn by the kings and major chiefs. But the gold was mainly sought after by the Europeans whilst the Africans sought copper and brass as copper was considered a royal metal. Because of the Arab and trans-Saharan trade, designs in gold tend to reflect this middle-eastern influence.
The skill of smiths has always been a secretive art and shrouded in mystery in all African cultures. The smiths were considered to be possessors of special powers and treated with extreme ambivalence because of their ability to transform rocks into metals. Smelting processes were guarded, being handed down from father to son, not shared amongst the tribe in general.
Masks were used in ceremonies, notably the initiation ceremonies, when the participant was required to mask his old appearance. In hunting dances, masks were in the form of animals, so that the dancer could emulate the movements and appearance game animals. Masquerades were also used in funeral ceremonies, for politics, social control, to psychologically cure ills, or for pure entertainment.
Mask carving and making was usually the work of specialists, and in particular, by the men. Often they were made by the blacksmiths of the community because of them being accredited with powers.
Often masks were hideous to induce fear, especially in the face of an enemy.
Headrests, like those made by the Lubapeople in the Congo (Zaire) and by the Zulu, were used as pillows to keep the neck cool during sleep, to stop insects from crawling into the sleeper's ears, and to preserve the labour intensive hairstyles that could take days to create


The term 'primitive art' is a legacy from the anthropologists of the 19th century who saw the Europe of their day as the apex of social evolution.

Study of African art, along with native American and Oceanic art, began in the second half of the 19th century, a period when the idea of evolution was permeating all scientific thought.

Many of those involved saw themselves as anthropologists, rather than as art historians, and saw the art they studied as a reflection of the progress in the material culture of mankind as a whole.

Also, when attempts were made to administer in various parts of Africa, a number of works were gathered and sent to Europe, often as examples of heathenish pratices, to encourage support for missionary societies.
But a mask made by the Fang which was given to Maurice Vlaminckin 1905 and sold to Andre Derain, was shown to Picasso and Matisse and they were greatly affected by it. The mask was copied and cast in bronze.

Sources : Africa Arts & Cultures by John Mack Pub. British Museum Press ISBN 0-7141-2548-2
African Art by Frank Willett Pub. Thames & Hudson ISBN 0-500-20364-4





Displaying African Art

African art pieces compliment any modern home and can look spectacular in a variety of settings.
Complimentary to African art are natural materials... plants- especially ferns, palms, dracenas, agaves, cacti and succulents; driftwood... such as you can buy for aquarium tanks, or pieces you find on the beach, even logsfor the hearth fire; woods... such as beech, pine, Scandinavian blonde wood, oak; stones and rocks; wrought iron; and basketry.
African sculptures and masks enhance a minimalistic or Bauhaus setting ... the plain whites, beiges, magnolias ... the black leather furniture ... the chrome, glass and mirrors.
They also set well against vivid coloursof terracotta, yellow, reds, lime greens, blues; and Colonial coloursof khaki, dark green, and sandy browns.
Soft sheer fabrics such as voile or net, velvets, damasks; leathers in black or brown, even red; fabrics with bold geometric patterns, animal skin prints, even some florals ... all enhance the African sculptures.
They can be displayed as single items... alone on a shelf; as part of a collection... set in the corner of a room or in a display unit; or in a themed room dedicated to their display ... such as a study or library, as they work well with books.
Themed rooms are good. The 'Colonial Explorer' or 'Big WhiteHunter' theme is an excellent starting point ... dusty old leather bound books on the desk, field glasses, antique or replica guns, even swords, on the wall as well as an African mask or Zulu war shield ... some rusty old antiquated farm implement ... plants - ferns, dried seed pods ... a zebra or tiger skin printed rug (note a printed rug - not the poor animal's skin!) ... a butterfly collection.


I have displayed my own collection of African art in two ways ... my conservatoryis home to my glass ornaments from Ngwenya Glass Works. They are displayed in an old display unit alongside my SLR camera with long lens, on top of the unit sits a carved African bird from Zambia and a silk bouganvillia,  the wooden crocodile from Zambia sits on another shelf in the unit next to some copper urns acquired at an English market fair, and a little brass lizard also bought in England.
On the walls are my copper plaques showing African animals acquired in Swaziland. On another wall is the African shield which I found at a junk shop in England, the Kabuta painting showing the rural African village, the painting by Mota of Victoria Falls sits on my piano that has seen better days, and Zulu and Swazi beads are hung on another small portion of wall.
The colours in the room are pink, dark green, gold and white ... the room is papered in the traditional English way of half-and-half ... the top half is a fine pink stripe, and lower half is the dark green mottled stripe, with a floral dado border with gold highlights. The woodwork around the window and the door leading to the laundry room are painted white. Traditionally the pink is not an African colour but it works well in the room.
On a small handmade cupboard sit two frightful looking African people ... I don't like them but they sit well in the décor.
And the room is further enhanced by some plants ... a Mediterranean arucaria tree, a bromfelsia which has purple and white flowers, a erithstemon or lucky bean tree which I have grown from a seed that I brought over from South Africa in 1992, and a strelizia which probably will never flower in England because it is not warm enough.
I cheated slightly with the strelizia ... it has such a wonderful flower and when I found I silk version of it, well I just had to buy it and I have stuck it in the pot with the real strelizia plant ... and well, you can't tell the difference.
I also had a Jacaranda tree which I grew from a seed also brought over from South Africa in 1992 but it died when we had a particularly hard frost one winter.
My other African sculptures are dotted around my living room which is modern but not minimalistic, English, or Bauhaus. The walls are painted in magnolia and in the room I have chrome 'executive toys', the obligatory tv, hifi, video and computer, fibre optic lights, wavy shaped mirrors from Ikea, black leather furniture, church candles in black wrought iron holders, disco balls, a Dracena and Kensia palm, beech wood and mahogany table and chairs, display unit and desk. 
Photos of my kids are hung on the walls. In my hearth (I had the electric fire removed) I have a painting of 3 lions above which is a wooden symbol in Chinese, and a set of church candles in around which I have silk flowers which are changed with the seasons.
In my kitchen, which is white 'Italian' design, hangs a  print of a stylised African lady in vibrant colours, and in one of the display units I have a collection of old English creamware, a set of brown glass cups and saucers which were given to me by Doreen Nunnas a memento of her mother, and African wooden pots and bowls.
Do not be put off by African art, thinking that it will not tie in with your décor.
Granted it will not set well against your Chinese ming vase, or fine English bone china ...
Hmmmm this is debatable ... I bet an African sculpture would be equally at home in amongst a whole room full of Chinese art ...



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