When we begin to trace the artistic culture of Africa, we are pulled in many directions. Africa has influenced our American culture in many important ways. When we think of Africa, African masks are the first things that probably come to mind. But, Africa is a large continent with many different ethnic groups that are rich in other arts as well. These arts are things that are made of bronze, gold, ivory, leather and textiles. Other traditional arts of sculpture fabric design, ceramics, and paintings were influenced by African belief in magic and the respect that was held for their ancestors and rulers.
Long ago, many African Artists worked with various abstract forms. Through these forms they wanted to create the idea and concept of people, animals and gods rather than a likeness of these things. More often these abstract forms were used to create an expression of religion because it was an integral part of their everyday life.
Many villagers in West Africa created a traditional art that is called textiles. Textiles are coven fabric that is created in several different ways. The ways of creating include painting, weaving, printing or tye-dying the fabric. These fabrics are usually rich in color and have very busy patterns. Each village has its own particular style of creating these fabric designs. They may use a combination of processes for designing the fabric. Today in our American culture this form of textiling is done mostly in factories where a computer creates most of the designs and colors. We wear many of these textiles that are created on the computer. These textiles include design that may be on our jeans, jackets, teeshirts, sneakers, etc.
Another forms of textiling found in Africa is called Adinkra. Adinkra cloth is done mainly in Ghana, and created using decorated stamps. These stamps are carved from a calabash. A calabash is a fruit tree in Africa and the handles are made of strong sticks that are found in the village. The stamps are dipped in a black dye made from the bark of trees. Adinkra, the name of the dye, means “goodbye,” and the cloth is worn on important occasions. These occasions may include funerals or when visitors are departing from the country. Adinkra stamps or symbols can be found on many of today’s cultural things. These things include architecture, motifs, stationary, and T-shirts. Many Adinkra printers are constantly creating many designs for stamps that we incorporate into our own cultures. One symbol that is well known in our society and culture is the symbol of a Mercedes Benz.
Our culture of today has been many influences from African art. But, it has influenced our culture in two other important ways. First, it has influenced our culture through two well known European artists. These European artist are Pablo Picasso and Henri Matisse. Picasso and Matisse both studied the African mask during the twentieth century. Because of their study, they began to change their way of working. The style, expression, and the idealization and design of the mask, caused these artist to begin painting with flat planes that showed no representation of what the subject was. Through their studies of the art of Africans and of masks, Cubism was born. Cubism, is a style in which geometric shapes are used to represent objects.
Secondly, black artists in our culture today, through their own works, have demonstrated the sufferings, frustrations, and desires of their people for many years. Through their cultural heritage that has been influenced by African art, artists have communicated through their paintings, sculptures, drawings, and prints, that they have said something about their culture as well as their role as an artist.