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A fine Eastern Pende Panya-Gombe African mask. Coll.: David Norden

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"The African continent has produced a great diversity of art from prehistoric times to the present day. In many instances, art production has been related to ritual or tribal ceremonies, as well as serving more secular decorative functions, but it is not always easy to determine the function of a particular work. It is also problematic to label as 'art' the productions of African craftspeople who frequently considered their work as an essential part of secular or religious life. 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 his or her production. With these strictures in mind, it is possible to isolate different areas and different practices of African art. From c 7000 BC rock drawings include 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, body painting or sculptural masks used in religious ceremonies.

"Such diversity also appears in separate geographical regions, where natural resources dictated the materials used, while tribal power, wealth or sophistication was responsible for the type of objects produced. The Ashanti of Ghana used gold and bronze which were readily accessible in their territory, whereas the Baluba, a tribal people in the Congo, specialized in carved images of women holding bowls. The Fang group of tribes produced high-quality funerary sculptures which were dominated by geometric patterns. The Bambara of west Africa were known for their elaborate head-dresses, which were used during ceremonies, in contrast to the simple wooden masks of the Dogon people of west Africa. The art of Ife and Benin - both cities in western Nigeria - was lavish and naturalistic during the 12th - 17th centuries when those areas were infiltrated by European influences, and the Bakuba tribe was known for its royal portrait carvings. The dark wood of the Ivory Coast was the basis for sculptural figurines of the Baule people, who produced classically naturalistic masks, and terracotta was the material used for heads produced by the Nok peoples of central and north Nigeria. Nigeria was also the home of the Yoruba, one of the most prolific tribes in African art.

 "In the 19th and 20th centuries, African art was 'discovered' by Western colonizers and embraced by modernist artists for its lack of pretension and exciting formal qualities. With the Westernization of much African society, 'traditional' art has become 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."
Found in the following book:

African art | bulfinch The Bulfinch Guide to Art History
Author: Shearer West; 911 pages available from $6.48 
While the focus is purposely Eurocentric, one will find entries on Aboriginal art, Chinese art, Mandala, and Hokusai .Despite the gestures towards multi-cultural values, this remains an utterly Eurocentric account of art.

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African art books

The Tribal Arts of Africa

The Tribal Arts of Africa
Author: Jean-Baptiste Bacquart

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