Art of Africa

Now Open!

The scope of African art is as vast and varied as her people.  So, who are the Africans represented in this exhibit and what is African art?

In this gallery, you will see art created by many indigenous peoples of sub-Saharan Africa.  Sub-Saharan Africa is the term used to describe the area of the African continent which lies south of the Sahara Desert. Geographically, the demarcation line is the southern edge of the Sahara Desert.

Due to the diversity of cultures in sub-Saharan Africa, what African art is, is a question with a longer answer.  We can identify some common traits of much of the art of sub-Saharan Africa.  These traits are: the human image is a favored subject, intense use of color, three-dimensional works and sculpture are more popular than paintings, abstraction is preferred over realism, and art makes useful objects more beautiful.

Look for functional beauty in everyday objects such as tools and clothing, and see art for art’s sake in portraits and busts. Notice the fine craftsmanship and symbolic decorations on the weapons used for war and the hunt.  Brilliant cloth and brightly colored beads identify different tribes and differentiate people by gender, age, and social status.  The extensive collection of ritual masks which represent folklore and family have uses ranging from communicating with ancestral spirits to initiation ceremonies and weddings. Music is a constant presence throughout all aspects of African culture. The art of African music is in the appearance of the instruments, and in the sounds they produce.  The Tree of Life carvings illustrate the links between tribal generations, and how those generations connect to the land.

The preservation of culture and the environment are integral to African art.  A core African value is a respectful relationship with the natural world which they revere as a gift to be cherished and cared for.  Through the creation and sharing of their art, the African artists seen here wish to share their cultures and their way of life to preserve them for the future.


Mtwara Region of Tanzania, African Rosewood

This Kimbunga carving was created by master carver Joseph Nyunga from the trunk of a massive African Rosewood tree. Kimbunga is one of the most powerful Makonde spirits. It has the ability to bring devastation with the wind of its great wings, or to bring riches with rains that make the crops grow and can expose new sources of gold or diamonds with landslides in the mountains.

African Masks

An important feature of the traditional culture of the peoples of Sub-Saharan Africa are ritual and ceremonial masks. Masks can have either a religious or spiritual meaning, and the skills to make them, as well as the knowledge of the symbolism of the different masks, are often passed down from father to son.

Masks are most often made of wood, but stone, copper, bronze, pottery, and fabric are used as well. They can be ornamented with teeth, claws, hair, sea shells, egg shells, dried grasses, and feathers. The way a mask is intended to be worn dictates its structure. Most common is covering the face, but some only cover the top of the head. Less common are the masks made out of hollowed tree stumps that cover both the head and shoulders.

Paintings, Sculptures and More

This exhibition includes a number of other African Artifacts; painting and sculptures that depict sub-Saharan Africa, created by many famous artists; weapons of African origin, include shields and arrows; musical instruments that are both commonplace and ceremonial; and much more.