African Tribal Art: History & Examples

An error occurred trying to load this video.

Try refreshing the page, or contact customer support.

Coming up next: Alfeñique: Sugar Art Celebrating the Day of the Dead

You're on a roll. Keep up the good work!

Take Quiz Watch Next Lesson
 Replay
Your next lesson will play in 10 seconds
  • 0:03 History of African Tribal Art
  • 1:13 What African Tribal…
  • 2:02 Examples of African Art
  • 4:30 Lesson Summary
Save Save Save

Want to watch this again later?

Log in or sign up to add this lesson to a Custom Course.

Log in or Sign up

Timeline
Autoplay
Autoplay
Speed Speed
Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Melissa Olivieri
Some of the most famous artists of the Western world, such as Picasso, were influenced by traditional African art. This lesson focuses on the history of African tribal art and takes a look at some well-known examples.

History of African Tribal Art

The term African art is typically used to describe traditional art from the countries in Africa located south of the Sahara desert (Sub-Saharan Africa). This means that the hieroglyphics and artifacts of the Egyptians are not included in the classification of African tribal art. The history of African art is so old that we can't put a date on it. Why? Not only because it dates back to before recorded history but also because the oldest pieces were made from things like wood that have rotted or been destroyed by termites over time. So what remains of this ancient art?

Rock art was discovered in Nigeria showing carvings that are 6000 years old. The earliest surviving textiles date back to the first century. The oldest known sculptures, dating back to between 500 BCE and 500 CE, are those of the Nok culture from West Africa. For example, take a look at this 6th century Nok sculpture made from terracotta:

Nok terracotta sculpture

So now that you've got an idea of how old some of the earliest art on our planet is, let's look at some different types of African art and see how it was important to cultural traditions.

What African Tribal Art Reveals

If you were to visit a museum, the majority of African tribal art that you would see would be masks, statues, and textiles. Today, we rely on these items to give us a real sense of what the people of Africa were like thousands of years ago. They tell us more than the words of a textbook alone can because they allow us to touch a real piece of their history. And their history is our history, right?

If we trace back the history of human life and find that the oldest bones and fossils are from Africa, then in many ways African history is the history of all humans. Without these art pieces, we would not know as much about these cultures as we do. In the same way, you can see how our modern day art could be of great importance to the societies who will live 2000 years in the future.

Examples of African Art

So let's pretend we're in a museum in the African tribal art section. What do we see? We have already said it is mostly masks, textiles, and statues, but what were the subjects? Of course their subjects weren't skyscrapers, robots, or cars. Rather, they were creating images of their own place and time. Sculptures and carvings, such as masks, were mainly of people, their natural surroundings, and animals. Textiles were mainly geometrical patterns, and the masks were primarily the faces of people, specifically ancestors. Let's talk a little more about these three examples.

To unlock this lesson you must be a Study.com Member.
Create your account

Register to view this lesson

Are you a student or a teacher?

Unlock Your Education

See for yourself why 30 million people use Study.com

Become a Study.com member and start learning now.
Become a Member  Back
What teachers are saying about Study.com
Try it risk-free for 30 days

Earning College Credit

Did you know… We have over 200 college courses that prepare you to earn credit by exam that is accepted by over 1,500 colleges and universities. You can test out of the first two years of college and save thousands off your degree. Anyone can earn credit-by-exam regardless of age or education level.

To learn more, visit our Earning Credit Page

Transferring credit to the school of your choice

Not sure what college you want to attend yet? Study.com has thousands of articles about every imaginable degree, area of study and career path that can help you find the school that's right for you.

Create an account to start this course today
Try it risk-free for 30 days!
Create an account
Support