Magazine article School Arts

African Art Inspires Animal Assemblages

Magazine article School Arts

African Art Inspires Animal Assemblages

Article excerpt

African sculpture throbs with a diversity of styles, subjects and techniques. Every culture has its own idea of what art should look like and what purpose it should serve. The qualities linking the diverse styles are elegant craftsmanship, robust technical qualities and vigorous surface textures. There is a simple yet confident way in which the essentials of a subject are brought out.

Much of African art is not meant to decorate but is meant to express the ideas that were laid down by generation upon generation of traditions and precedents. Thus, as one group made sculpture that was realistic, another group was making stylized sculpture.

Sculpture Styles

Throughout the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, the anonymous sculptors of Benin, Nigeria, mastered the art of plastic manipulation and conquered the feeling for three-dimensional depth. They modeled realistic busts and wall plaques in terra-cotta or cast them in bronze. The calm, quiet beauty and noble look of the sculpture are striking.

During this same time period, the Ashanti wood carvers of Ghana and the Bambara of Mali dramatically stylized their work. Although aware of the anatomy of living things, they were not interested in showing what the eye sees. They wanted to imply rather than conform to the facts of nature. So, they stripped animal, bird and human anatomical features into basic geometric shapes--into a sort of visual shorthand--and applied it to their work. In the process, they skillfully opened up areas in the sculpture so that the open spaces became an active, expressive part of the work. …

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