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ART OF ANCIENT WEST AFRICA. WEST AFRICA. Societies with their own customs and artistic traditions & styles. WEST AFRICA. ANCIENT WEST AFRICA. Tribal Architecture Diverse architectural styles using natural materials (mud, wood, palm leaves, …)

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  2. WEST AFRICA Societies with their own customs and artistic traditions & styles


  4. ANCIENT WEST AFRICA Tribal Architecture • Diverse architectural styles using natural materials (mud, wood, palm leaves, …) • Adobe structures, made of earth mixed with water, have been built in the countries of Mali, Niger, Nigeria, Togo, Benin, Ghana, and Burkina Faso Dogon villages built on the sides of cliffs along the Niger river - Mali Adobe mud brick house - Ghana Timbuktu - Mali

  5. ANCIENT WEST AFRICA Architecture • Use of fractal scaling: small parts of the structure tend to look similar to larger parts, such as a circular village made of circular houses • African architecture has been subject to numerous external influences (western and Islamic) Djenne marketplace - Mali Earthen brick houses – Benin, Nigeria Wood ribbed house - Cameroon

  6. WEST AFRICA Architecture • Today, modern western styles, Islamic styles, and contemporary African tribal styles based on earlier traditions can be found throughout West Africa Architecture Nigeria: movie house Djenne Mosque, Mali Zaria, Nigeria: clay houses

  7. ANCIENT WEST AFRICA Similarities: • Largely agricultural societies composed of farmers, metal workers, traders, artisans, hunters, & warriors • Yams, grains, plantains, corn, beans main crops • Societies ruled by powerful royal familiesand elders Yoruba – Nigeria Man carving dried gourds used to serve food or drink

  8. ANCIENT WEST AFRICA Similarities: • Reverence of ancestors • Structured beliefs with gods and spirits linked to the forces of nature • Belief in spirits that influence existence & environment • Belief that death is not final and in a world of ancestral spirits • Emphasis on the human figure Ancestral Figure Senufo - Mali

  9. ANCIENT WEST AFRICA Similarities: • Emphasis on performance art • Tradition of oral literature passed on from generation to generation through ritual, ceremony, and spoken word • Folktales & proverbs • Mythologies • Poetry • Drama Racing Mask Dan – Ivory Coast

  10. ANCIENT WEST AFRICA Artists: • Worked on commission from ruler, cult, healer, secret society • Followed framework of local beliefs and traditions • Symbolic shapes • Symbolic colors • Depiction of human form Bobo Antelope Mask Burkina Faso

  11. Role of Art in West Africa • Not seen as art but something to connect people with the unseen audience of spirits of dead and the spirits and forces of nature • Intervened • Offered advice • Channeled energies Mossi Fetish Figure Burkina Faso

  12. Role of Art in West Africa Works were not seen as an piece of art but as an item with a societal purpose • Assisted and maintained physical & spiritual well-being of community • Helped organize society • Helped solve problems • Identified status within society Carved Door Dogon - Mali

  13. Mende Helmet Mask Sierra Leone Reliquary Figure, Gabon WEST AFRICAN ART Imagery often abstract or highly stylized • Represented abstract concepts (a spirit, a force, …) • Prevailing belief: a likeness of an individual would trap part of his/her spirit/essence

  14. SCULPTURE • Main form of artistic expression • Full-round and relief • Part of ritual and celebration • Made of wood and cast metals Wooden full-round figure Bronze relief panel

  15. Chiwara or Tyi Wara Figure Bambana - Mali SCULPTURE • Concerned with aspects of existence • Continuity of life • Initiation into adulthood • Influence over spirits to control health and the environment • Death and ancestral spirits Chiwara a mythical farming god in the form of an antelope. Carved figures worn on the head as part of a ritual when crops are to be planted to teach young Bamana men social values as well as agricultural techniques.

  16. SCULPTURE They were danced in pairs and celebrate the union of male (sun), female (earth) and fiber costume (rain), signifying the cooperation needed for a successful harvest and community survival

  17. SCULPTURE 9 main forms • Masks • Ancestral figures • Fetish (power) figures • Reliquary figures • Royal portraits • Warrior/Hunter figures • Womanhood figures • Thrones and stools • Carved doors BamumMask Cameroon

  18. MASKS • Part of a costume to “mask” one’s identity • Believed to transform the wearer to interact with and hopefully control supernatural spirits and forces • Can be worn in three different ways: vertically covering the face: as helmets, encasing the entire head, or as a crest, resting upon the head

  19. Igbo Funerary Mask Nigeria MASKS • Most made of wood • Human and animal forms • Sometimes painted and other materials added (shells, fibers, feathers, metals, …) Baule Monkey Mask Ivory Coast

  20. MASKS • Changed individuals into a spirit, force, or figure with power • Part of a performance or ceremony involving costume, music, and movement The Dama ceremony is part of funerary rituals that ends mourning and transitions the spirit of the dead from the village to the spirit world Ritual ceremonies generally depict gods, spirits of ancestors, mythological beings, good and or evil, the dead, animal spirits, and other beings believed to have power over humanity

  21. Bwa Leaf Mask Burkina Faso MASKS • Some masks are permanent, some for one use only • The masks represent or embody bush spirits, who are called upon to benefit mankind and the forces of nature on which life depends Bwa leaf masks are used once in ceremonies to encourage the cycles of nature and then discarded

  22. MASKS • Rules were followed locally regarding: • Shapes • Colors • Patterns Crescent = Cycle of moon; start of the initiation Black = Adults White = Initiates “X” marks = Scarification Wavy lines = Paths of ancient ancestors Checkerboard = Teaching of wisdom Bwa Initiation Ceremonial Masks,Burkina Faso

  23. Scarification served as a symbol of strength, fortitude, or courage in both men and women MASKS Bwa Initiation Ceremonial Masks,Burkina Faso

  24. MASKS Yoruba Gelede Ceremonial Mask Nigeria and Benin

  25. MASKS Dan Social Arbitrator Mask Ivory Coast & Liberia Senufo Ceremonial Mask Ivory Coast Baule Mask Ivory Coast

  26. FIGURAL SCULPTURES Used to channel spirits toward human goals: • Protection • Stimulate fertility • Mark initiations • Commemorate event or individual Akuaba dolls are carried and cared for by Ashanti women who wish to become pregnant and also after pregnancy to assure that their child would be born beautiful Ashanti fertility figures (Akuaba dolls) Ghana

  27. ANCESTRAL FIGURES • Housed the spirit of a dead ancestor • Full-round stylized or abstract human forms • Usually carved from wood • Followed traditions • Forms • Materials Allowed the ancestral spirit to remain as a vital force within the community Dan (L) -- Baule (R) - Ivory Coast

  28. RELIQUARY FIGURES Protected the remains of the dead • Placed in basket with skeletal remains • Very abstract representations of the human form Used to scare off evil forces and individuals who may tamper with the remains Reliquary Figures, Gabon

  29. FETISH /POWER FIGURES • Fetishes were protective figures used by individuals, families, or communities to destroy or weaken evil spirits, prevent or cure illnesses, repel bad deeds, and decide arguments • Some figures were used to hunt out wrongdoers and to avenge their crimes • A diviner or holy person would activate the statue, using magical substances

  30. FETISH /POWER FIGURES Believed to be able to give spirits physical form & to channel their energies • Full-round stylized human form • Carved from wood & nails, pins, mirrors, blades, … added to release power within figure Nkisi Figure, Congo

  31. ROYAL FIGURES Portraits to honor kings, queens, & high-ranking dignitaries • Naturalistic & stylized human forms • Full-round • Made of wood, terracotta, or cast metals Bronze Head of an Oba Benin Kingdom -Nigeria Terracotta Head of a Queen Ife Kingdom -Nigeria

  32. HUNTER/WARRIOR FIGURES Honored individuals who have helped to preserve or protect the society • Highly stylized human forms • Full-round • Made of wood or cast metals Male Figure, Mali Bronze

  33. Female figure, BauleIvory Coast Female Figure, Nigeria WOMANHOOD FIGURES Honored women as leaders within the society and as givers and nurturers of life • Highly stylized/abstract human forms • Full-round • Made of wood or cast metals In many regions, African mothers have always owned the land, which is why the land is referred to as the motherland

  34. THRONES & STOOLS Royal thrones or seats symbolize power, status, heritage, prestige, and authority within the society • Made of wood • Often believed to house the soul of the owner • Thrones used for coronations and for special ceremonies • Precious metals (silver, gold) often added Asante Throne, Ghana

  35. THRONES & STOOLS • Only those who own the stools or thrones are allowed to sit on them

  36. DOORS • Carved wooden doors contained images & markings that represented traditional tribal beliefs, icons of ancestors, or told stories of village history • Indicators of status within the community Dogon door covered with the spirits of past ancestors who protect and watch over the family

  37. MUSIC • Usually associated with ceremonies, rituals, and celebrations • Polyphonic • Drums and percussion instruments, the balafon (xylophone), stringed and wind instruments, such as the reed flute, the kora and the kontingo • Beat and rhythm are the two main elements kora kontingo balafon

  38. DANCE • Ritual dance enforces and affirms the belief system of the society • Dances play a role in religious rituals; they mark rites of passage, including initiations to adulthood and weddings; they form a part of communal ceremonies, including harvest celebrations, funerals, & coronations; • Dances also offer entertainment & recreation Dogon stilt dancers, Mali Ceremonial wedding dance, Nigeria

  39. African Fabric Art • Valued tradecommodity • Communicated a wearer’s kingship, group, or status within the community

  40. African Fabric Art • Woven on looms • Stenciled • Block (Stamp) printed • Screen-Printed • Painted • Batiked/Resist • Tie Dyed • Embroidered

  41. African Fabric Art Adinkra cloth - Asante, Ghana • Designs first used to decorate funereal clothing • Today it is used to make clothing for such special occasions as festivals, church-going, weddings, naming ceremonies and initiation rites • Printed by block-printing (symbol stamps carved from gourds) printed with black dye made from tree bark

  42. An official of the court of the king of the Asante people African Fabric Art • Adinkra • A symbol or design that tells a story or stands for an idea also used to refer to the kind of cloth that is decorated with adinkra symbols; the word adinkra means farewell or goodbye

  43. African Fabric Art • Stamp Symbolism Adwera – Watery Shrub Purity, Sanctity, Chastity, Cleanliness Cleanliness, Good Fortune Abe-Dua – Palm Tree Self-sufficiency, Resilience, Vitality, Wealth, & Causation Akoko Nan – Hen’s Feet Parental Discipline, Care, Tenderness Discipline, Protection Adwo – Peace Peace, Calmness, Continuity, Spiritual Coolness

  44. African Fabric Art • Kente Cloth - Ghana • Made from cotton or silk dyed yarn • Woven on narrow horizontal loom • Strips 3-5 inches wide & 5 feet long sewn together to make wider pieces of cloth • Patterns and colors have a symbolic meaning King wearing adwinasa kente

  45. African Fabric Art Color symbolism in Kente Cloth • black -- maturation, intensified spiritual energy • blue -- peacefulness, harmony and love • green -- vegetation, planting, harvesting, growth, spiritual renewal • gold -- royalty, wealth, high status, glory, spiritual purity • grey -- healing and cleansing rituals; associated with ash • maroon -- the color of mother earth; associated with healing • pink -- assoc. with the female essence of life; a mild, gentle aspect of red • purple -- assoc. with feminine aspects of life; usually worn by women • red -- political and spiritual moods; bloodshed; sacrificial rites and death. • silver -- serenity, purity, joy; assoc. with the moon • white -- purification, sanctification rites and festive occasions • yellow -- preciousness, royalty, wealth, fertility

  46. African Fabric Art • Wax resist • Traced back to Javanese batiks brought to Africa by European traders in 17th century designs created by stepped applications hot wax and dye • Tie-Dye • Designs created on fabric by stitching or tying areas to resist dye

  47. African Fabric Art

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