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Influence of Cultural Identity on African Art

Does Cultural Identity Influence the Creation of Art? In the first region of this series, we explore the magnificent continent of Africa.

Traditional African Art

African art can seem complicated, but it’s an easy-to-understand masterpiece in the real sense. That said, before we explore 10 Ways Cultural Identity Has Influenced African Art, let’s start from the beginning, shall we? Africa is one of the wealthiest continents in terms of culture and art, and with good reason. That’s because the continent is full of different religions and tribes with specific rituals. In some way, each culture encompasses social behaviour, literature, music, and art.

Some might be relatively small in the number of people who associate and belong to the culture. But, the value of a specific culture can’t be quantified by size. No matter how small or big a given culture is, they always have a unique contribution to art.

With that in mind, we will take a look at 10 ways that cultural identity has influenced African art in general. Hold up! Before we get started, do you even understand the concept of cultural identity? If not, let me give you a brief explanation before we proceed.

“Artists reach areas far beyond the reach of politicians. Art, especially entertainment and music, is understood by everybody, and it lifts the spirits and the morale of those who hear it.”

Nelson Mandela

African Art: What is Cultural Identity?

Typically, cultural identity is the act of self-identification with a particular ethnic group. That said, this article will describe how the self-identification with an ethnic group has influenced African artwork. And now that you are up to speed, let’s take a look at the 10 ways that cultural identity has influenced African art.

10 Ways Cultural Identity Has Influenced African Art

1. Historical connection

African art is always an expression of a story in connection with our predecessors. African art’s origin dates back as one of the oldest forms of communication, and it was recorded long before history. For instance, the Nassarius’ beads were won as personal ornaments almost 72,000-years ago.

What’s more, African tribal art acts as historical reservoirs in the cultural identity process. That being the case, today, an artist can use their work to identify with the culture hence shaping the African artwork.

2. African Art: Materials Used

Cultural identity, especially the purposeful making of art, creates a connection to our roots. Africa is still a continent of endless reserves of minerals such as bronze, gold, silver, and so much more. Countries in Africa help their craftsmen design and create jewellery using such elements to express their cultures.

To put this idea into perspective, let’s take a look at the KenteThe Kente is a traditional, handwoven cloth that features silk and cotton texture. Typically, the fabric is centred around the Ghanaian culture. The Kente is a warp, worn in a toga-like fashion, and both men and women wear it in their culture.

All in all, there are several variations between the fabrics from gender to gender. Above all, each colour has a different meaning. With that in mind, an artist who would want to identify with their Ghanaian roots, might draw inspiration from the Kente and create an outstanding African tribal artwork that will directly speak to your emotions. More importantly, the same artist might use sisal and cotton to express the Kente inspiration richly.

3. African Art: Cultural Practices

African culture uses different expression forms, for instance, dance, music, clothing, cuisine, and languages. That said, to identify with a particular culture, you need to understand the norms of the community. These practices make the community have a personalized connection with the other members. And above, cultural practices vary from one community to the next.

For example, traditional dancing in the Egyptian community is quite different from the traditional dances in the Zulu community. The Egyptian community dance dates back to ancient times, and many wall paintings show more about the moves. One of the most outstanding features of Egyptian dancing is that men and women always danced separately.

To create a masterpiece, an Egyptian artist trying to identify with his/her culture would depict the dances in art. In such a case, that will change the entire story of his African tribal art.

4. Human Figure Emphasis

Without a doubt, the human figure has always been an essential subject in African artwork. Additionally, this factor has also influenced European traditions. In an African context, the human figure may symbolize a living or dead chief, dancer, drummer, or even hunter. Additionally, some tribes use symbolism to represent a sort of saviour in their community or a god.

Through cultural identity, artists use the human figure emphasis in their specific cultures or subject cultures to create art that represents that particular community. That way, African art is directly influenced by the human figure emphasis in the culture.

5. African Art: Colour Symbolism

African art is diverse in terms of style, delivery, and inspiration. But, most of the African artwork employs colour as a way to show symbolism. African tribal art, mostly sculptures, is deeply rooted in symbolism. That means that the pallet used in the drawing has more meaning than it’s overall outlook. The colour is designed to speak directly to your soul. For instance, the red colour speaks of danger, energy, urgency, or daring! With that in mind, the colour can be used to depict particular emotions in modern African artwork.

"In a moment of crisis, the wise build bridges and the foolish build dams."

Nigerian Proverb

6. Religious Beliefs

Just like all human cultures, African religion and folklore are varied and diverse. Also, spirituality and culture share a common space and are intertwined in most African cultures. Most of these African cultural-religious beliefs about the spirit world are represented through modern and traditional artworks.

In fact, in some cultures, artistic talents are perceived to please the higher spirits. Some common artworks representing African religious beliefs are paintings, statues, masks, and sculptures. These statues and sculptures are a way of connecting with the spiritual forces.

For instance, in the Kingdom of Kongo, there are particular art objects known as Nkisi, which people believed were inhabited by spirits. Therefore, today, the Nkisi is often carved into the shapes of animals or even humans as power objects. This particular piece of art is used as a means of identifying with communication to the spirit world.

7. Story Telling

A core component of the society in the African community is always storytelling. Long before written texts were possible, Africans still had a huge appetite for stories. Additionally, it was a way to teach the young moral values. Most African cultures took this component a notch higher and added storytelling in their art. Through that, we now have learned a lot about African heritage through paintings. Most artists will take to storytelling through their paint to breathe life in their African artwork.

8. Contemporary African Artwork

Perhaps this is one often misunderstood concepts in both African diaspora and Africans in general. Contemporary African art started where colonialists first settled across Africa. A more modern definition of contemporary African artwork, is an African art that has conquered and is accepted by Western culture.

Contemporary African art developed from the original African art, and still holds a lot in common with its predecessor. However, it has influenced a lot since it’s more or less an art version that has a touch of African cultural identity in it. That said, Africans living in the diaspora who aim to connect with their roots are more likely to create contemporary African art. That influences the evolution of African art and how the world outside this continent connects with the masterpiece.

9. Animal Symbolism

In African culture, individual animals have unique attributes; for instance, snakes, leopards, antelopes, and crocodiles. Therefore, such animals will always be represented in African culture art for specific representational purposes.

The Fon King Guezo in the 19th century is always represented by an artwork of a buffalo. In African culture, a buffalo is a representation of not only strength but also determination. The emblem is chosen through the Fa divination, which predicts the King’s reign’s character and nature.

In some African culture art forms, there might be different features of animals combined into new forms. Today, this kind of art tends to represent more complex ideas. In other cases, animal representations in artwork show individual animals consuming others. This type of African artwork may serve as a metaphor for the completion of social and spiritual forces. Such forms of art try to indicate how to resolve specific challenging social encounters.

10. Express Individualism

Last but not least is the idea of expressing individualism in art. There’s an extreme emphasis in expressing individualism in art in the West, which consequently affects how your art will look compared to your predecessors. So, as much as a young artist who would like to express their connection to African art, the art always has to be different due to Western cultural influence. That creates a significant impact on African art, whenever an artist is trying to identify with a given African style.

Can I Create an African Art Masterpiece?

Of course, yes! All you have to do is draw inspiration from a given culture, item, or religious belief and explore your creative nature.

However, if you have any trouble with your work, Ren Creative Works is here to assist you. I can offer you bespoke services to design your perfect African tribal inspired artwork.

If you have enjoyed reading about the Influence of Cultural Identity on African Art, I invite you discover the cornerstone article to this series: The Influence of Cultural Identity on the Creation of Art.

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