The Many Faces of African Art

The Many Faces of African Art

Around one billion people are living on the African continent, speaking over 2,000 different languages and dialects. The forms of artistic expression in "African art" or "Art from Africa" are correspondingly diverse.

Usually, the term 'African art' refers to the visual arts of native Africa, particularly sub-Saharan Africa, including such media as sculpture, painting, pottery, art, textiles, masks, personal decoration, and jewellery.

To celebrate the UK Black History Month, we are looking at the diversity of African art in our collections.  

West African, Benin, Nigeria, late 16th Century.<br/>Memorial head of an Oba (King of Benin).<br/>Bronze, height 39 cm.<br/>Form the Oba Palace in Benin.<br/>St-Germain-en-Laye, Musée des Antiquités.<br/>Saint-Germain-en-Laye, Musée des Antiquités nationales.<br/><br/>AKG585607
Face mask with horns, Kwele, Gabon.<br/>Wood with white and black paint.<br/>Height 42 cm, width 62.5 cm.<br/>Geneva, Barbier-Mueller Collection.<br/><br/>AKG200271
Head of an Oni (King), detail.<br/>West Africa, Yoruba, Ife, Nigeria,<br/>12th - 13th Century.<br/>Bronze.<br/>Ife Ife (Nigeria), National Museum.<br/><br/>AKG3108541
Tomb figure ntandi, Congo, Kisilua, Matadi, Lower Congo, Democratic Republic of the Congo.<br/>Grave figure ntandi (fumani).<br/>Soapstone, height 46 cm.<br/>Tervuren, Musée Royal de l'Afrique Centrale.<br/><br/>AKG264476
Baule, Ivory Coast.<br/>Twin mask of the “mblo” tribe.<br/>Wood painted red and black, height 29cm.<br/>Geneva, Collection Barbier-Mueller.<br/><br/>AKG582458
Mask of an Iyoba.<br/>West African, Benin, Nigeria, early 16th Century.<br/>Ivory, 25cm high.<br/>London, British Museum.<br/><br/>AKG593461
Ceremonial mask of Ibibio<br/>Niger African, Ibibio, southeastern Nigeria.<br/>Wood, animal hair and plant fibers,<br/>Height 35 cm.<br/>Private Collection.<br/><br/>AKG3674962
Altar figure<br/>West Africa, Dogon, Southern Falaise, 20th century.<br/>Wood, patina, 30 x 8.5 x 7.6 cm.<br/>Donation J.J. Klejman, Houston, The Menil Collection.<br/><br/>AKG4074543
African Reliquary from Kota, Gabon.<br/>Wood, copper.<br/>Art Trade, Paris (Hôtel Drouot), 5.12.1987.<br/><br/>AKG378889
Anthropomorphic figure.<br/>West African, Senufo, northern Ivory Coast.<br/>Wood, industrial colour, height 28 cm.<br/>Paris, private collection.<br/><br/>AKG1633941
Head of a Queen Mother. View in profile.<br/>Western African, Benin, Nigeria, 1515/1550.<br/>Bronze, height 52 cm.<br/>Lagos (Nigeria), National Museum.<br/><br/>AKG3108546
Anthropomorphic mortar (woman: nourishing mother).<br/>West African, Bozo, Mali, 20th century.<br/>Wood, painted polychrome.<br/>Private Collection.<br/><br/>AKG1634070
Jewellery “pearls” of Baule, called Senzé (= sun going down).<br/>Gold, diameter 6.5 – 9cm.<br/>Private collection.<br/><br/>AKG379383
Drummer with two drums made of hollow tree trunks.<br/>West African, Benin, Nigeria, possibly early 17th century.<br/>Bronze relief.<br/>From the palace of the Oba in Benin.<br/>London, British Museum.<br/><br/>AKG585582
Animal mask (elephant’s head)<br/>West African, Bali, Cameroon,<br/>Wood, length 71.5cm.<br/>London, British Museum.<br/><br/>AKG581781
Couple of leopards<br/>Bronze, Benin, XVI sec.<br/>Nigeria<br/>Collection of the National Museum of Lagos<br/><br/>AKG1710400
Antelope mask, stylized <br/>West African, Kurumba, Burkina Faso.<br/>Wood, painted.<br/><br/>AKG5589949
Pectoral with crocodile (8.6 cm); snake (8 cm), fish (15 cm), crocodile (7.5 cm).<br/>Gold, West African, Asante, Ghana<br/>Paris, Collection Maurice Nicaud.<br/><br/>AKG579942
Ivory jug, probably a salt jar; Detail: lid with figurative decoration of humans and crocodiles, linked by the crocodiles biting into the genitals of the men.<br/>Sierra Leone (West Africa), 16th century.<br/>London, Museum of Mankind.<br/><br/>AKG193350
Jewellery in the shape of a leopard.<br/>part of the ceremonial dress of the Oba.<br/>West Africa, Edo, Benin, Nigeria,<br/>undated.<br/>Ivory and copper, length 28cm.<br/>Found in Benin City, Nigeria.<br/>London, British Museum.<br/>AKG593463
Pendant with Chameleon / Bronze Western African,<br/>Nigeria, 9th century.<br/>Pendant (chameleon between two oval shapes with bronze chains).<br/>Bronze, width 21.6 cm.<br/>Origin: Igbo-Ukwu.<br/>Lagos (Nigeria), Nat. Commission for Museums.<br/><br/>AKG4108303
Ritual container, Benin, XVII sec.<br/>Bronze<br/>National Museum of Lagos<br/><br/>AKG1710406
Loincloth made of beads<br/>Sudan Northeast African, Sudan.<br/>Private Collection.<br/><br/>AKG1949528
Mali, Songho, initiation site <br/>Songho (Mopti district, Mali, West Africa),<br/>Grotto (circumcision cave) (used by the Dogon as initiation site)<br/>– Partial view of the rock paintings.–<br/>Photo, undated (1990s).<br/><br/>AKG392169