ART HAS ALWAYS REFLECTED THE PHYSICAL ENVIRONMENT OF THE COUNTRY WHERE IT DEVELOPED and matured. This is particularly true of the art of people who live close to nature, and are at the mercy of their environment. Africa is no exception to this rule; the land and its climate had a profound influence on African art. In contrast to Europe with its heavily indented coast that makes for subdivisions and brings many sections into close contact with the sea, Africa forms a more solid mass. Nothing in its coastline encouraged seafaring excursions. Africa has received waves of other races from Asia and from Europe, but has itself remained passive, turning its back to the ocean, in self-sufficient isolation. The continent was slow to reveal itself to outsiders. Little is known of its past and only Egypt, in contact with Asia, has played a part in history. African self-containment is reflected in its art, which is virtually, though not exclusively, Negro sculpture. Considering the large area which produced sculpture, its style shows a remarkably unified character.
Of the indigenous races of Africa, Caucasian Hamites and Semites inhabit the northern part of the continent, north of an imaginary line drawn from the Senegal River in the northwest to Ethiopia in the east. The true Negro, dark-skinned and with woolly hair, is restricted roughly to the Guinea coast and its hinterland from the Senegal River to the mouth of the Cross River in the south at British Cameroons. Negroes mixed with Hamitic strains, the Bantu-speaking tribes, occupy the Congo River region. These two races are responsible for African Negro sculpture. Non-Negro people, the Bushmen, Hottentots and pygmies, are also outside the sculpture area.
Within the grand simplicity of this solid continent, climate has produced an equally simple division of desert, parkland (savannah) and forest. Only the least developed tribes sought the rain forests as a refuge. Less dense forests and more open parklands furnished the best conditions for agriculture, and it is in these regions that African art flourished.