Learn About African Statues


African statues are typically stylized depictions of human figures or other aspects of African culture, such as nature, animals or spirits. Usually, the term, “African art” pertains to art that is produced within Sub-Saharan Africa.

Traditional African art is usually classified in terms of masks, statues and textiles. The finest examples of these classical African art forms are world-renowned for their beauty and deeper meaning. Within the category of traditional African art, there is a sense of stylistic continuity. For example, human figures have a recognizable look, in that they are very stylized, rather than naturalistic.

When African art objects began to appear in the Western world during the 19th century, it took some time before art experts and historians developed the ability to accurately classify and understand these elegant and often-mystical forms of self-expression. By learning more about African culture, symbols and religious influences, European and North American art experts began to gain a deeper understanding of the inherent power of African artifacts.

Certain areas of Africa have their own distinctive types of art; for example, statues and other art forms which are created in Ethiopia may have Christian elements, whereas art that is produced in other parts of the continent may include Islamic design elements. While some people generalize African art, it is actually a very diverse art form that encompasses many different traditions, religions, rituals and cultures.

Ancient History

For thousands of years, African statues have been used to depict the most important symbols of African culture. Some ancient statues depict leaders in African society, such as kings and queens. Most statues of this type symbolize fertility and many are adorned with tribal symbols that represent particular segments of African society. Therefore, African statues are known for their ability to communicate vital social, spiritual and moral values, usually for the purpose of educating and guiding a specific tribe.

African sculpture, including statues, dates back to 500 BC. The first examples of primitive African art were found in a village in Nigeria. These works of art were crafted from pottery, and they depicted human figures. Believed to be the work of the Nok culture of Africa, these statuettes featured the stylized work that is so characteristic of African sculpture. For example, limbs were elongated and other anatomical features did not have realistic proportions. Because these early forms of African sculpture showcase an expressive quality, while also lacking naturalistic elements, they have a unique charm. Early pottery figures of African art were made from terracotta.

The Nok culture that was responsible for so much superior and resonant terracotta statuary appeared in Nigeria, West Africa around 300 AD. This culture was believed to have a very advanced social system. Known for producing life-size terracotta statues, this refined culture has produced priceless examples of terracotta art. One of the best-known examples of African art is a depiction of a Nok dignitary, who wears shepherd’s garb. Many Nok people were portrayed on horseback, signifying their mastery of these equine animals. Therefore, it may be argued that the most sophisticated cultures of ancient Africa created the most impressive and memorable African statues. However, even the more primitive, less highly-evolved cultures had much to offer, in the sense of contributing tribal art that was meaningful, distinctive and beautiful.

West Africa (including Nigeria) is best known for its terracotta figures. During the 1st century AD, statues that were visually striking in the severity of their lines began to be produced in the Sokoto area of north-west Nigeria.

Terracotta was one of the first materials used in the creation of African statues. Later, wood became a more popular material for such designs. In addition, cast metal was sometimes used, since wooden pieces would often be damaged by termites. In the 12th century, Nigeria became renowned for its metal statuettes and other metal sculptures.

Baule Statues

The Baule people are found in Cote D’Ivoire, and they speak the Akan language. The Baule have supernatural beliefs which strongly influence the appearance of the African statues (and other African art) that they create.

Baule men, women and children believe that all human beings were married in the “other world” before they were born. During their lives on earth, all Baule people are matched with “spirit spouses” who follow them and have the power to change their fortunes, for better or worse. According to the Baule, these spirit spouses communicate to their earthly counterparts via dreams.

Baule statues often depict spirit spouses. These stylized statues embody the magical thinking of the Baule people, and the best examples of these types of statues are highly collectible. They are prized for their artistry, as well as their supernatural symbolism. Typically, Baule spirit spouse statues are ordered by earthly spouses, who keep their spirit spouse sculptures in special parts of their homes, such as shrines, so that they may pay homage to their spirit spouses on a regular basis.

Organic Materials Utilized

The usage of organic materials is one prominent characteristic of African statues. Most statues of this type are crafted from wood, whereas others may be made from stone, cast metal or pottery. For centuries, these sorts of statues, which frequently feature elegant human figures which are not completely realistic (bodies are quite stylized and sleek), have added significant beauty and character to home décor, outdoor spaces, places of worship and commercial environments.

General Themes Of The Artwork

In certain parts of Africa, statues and masks of deities are utilized during religious or community ceremonies. However, these days, such examples of African art are also produced exclusively for sale to tourists. Visitors to Africa enjoy selecting these fascinating pieces of art, which are an interesting blend of earthy style and mystical symbolism.

Since African statues and other art forms are usually centered on the power of spirits and the way that these supernatural forces are believed to impact human lives, statues and masks are often detailed depictions of these spirits (which may be feared or revered). Therefore, African art is often focused on connecting with the spirit world and strengthening or celebrating the link between human beings and their otherworldly companions.

As you can see, superstition is very prominent in African culture. Certain spirit spouse statues and other forms of African sculpture may be commissioned in order to appease spirits. In this sense, some examples of African statues are meant to be used as good luck charms or talismans. While this usage of sculpture and statuettes may be perceived as spooky, it is a reflection of African culture.

Every piece of African art is not designed to provide the owner with divine protection, however, or with a conduit to the spirit world. Some art is produced to honor important people, to educate tribes, or simply to become an object of beauty, which may be kept by the artist or sold for a profit.

As the world becomes more global and more Africans have access to high technology that allows them to connect with other continents, the focus of African art and sculpture may shift. However, it’s safe to say that Africans will always look to their ancestral pasts in order to gain inspiration before creating statuettes and other works of art. Since collectors prize the distinctive look of traditional African art, it remains popular, and it is likely to retain its resonant qualities in years and decades to come.

Since this type of art is not naturalistic (i.e. realistic), it’s quite hypnotic and intriguing. The best examples of African statues, masks and other forms of art are bestowed with a sense of mystery and mysticism which tends to captivate those from other lands. In a sense, these examples of African art allow foreigners to connect with the spirit of the African people. For example, Central African statues and masks often feature faces that are shaped like hearts. The faces of these statues and masks curve inward, and they are embellished with a range of circles and dots.

How To Buy African Statues

Now that you know more about the power, beauty and history of African art and statues, you may be interested in collecting your own examples of ancient or modern African art. Whether you select spirit spouse statues, depictions of kings and queens, or tribal masks that are meant to be worn during sacred ceremonies, you’ll find that connecting with the spirit of the African people is immensely satisfying.

To find a perfect match, consider your preferred material. If you’re fond of cast metal, search for bronze designs that have a burnished quality. If you prefer the smooth beauty of polished wood, look for masks or statuettes crafted from this organic material. Wood may also be raw and unfinished for a more primitive effect. If pottery is more to your liking, consider terracotta figures that evoke the spirit of thousands of years of African culture and history.

Since art typically moves through a variety of hands (unless it is modern), tracking the ownership of antique art is known as determining its provenance. Some owners will add cachet and value to an art object; for example, if an African statue was known to be owned by a prominent royal, celebrity or other notable person, it may pump up the value of the piece.

However, when it comes to tracing the background of African (Sub-Saharan) art, origins may be quite murky. Since tribes don’t typically keep records, it’s difficult to know who owned a piece and what its general history might be. There are tests which may be used to “age” pieces of African art. These help collectors to establish the authenticity of antiques, based on when they were created.

Since it’s difficult for most people to find out the origins of their preferred African objet d’art, most collect because they love the pieces. Ultimately, choosing pieces of African art, such as African statues, should be about your passion for the pieces that you select. Living with African art is a wonderful way to enjoy exquisite beauty that is also very meaningful.

If you’re of African heritage, you may be particularly drawn to the most exquisite forms of African sculpture and art. As such designs will provide you with a powerful link to the culture and symbolism of your ancestors, they are apt to be very meaningful choices. Whether you select a small African statuette for a desktop, or fill your home with bigger examples of African figures, textiles, paintings and metal work, you’ll find that adding these designs to your home environment is very fulfilling.

Have A Look At Our Selection!

Feel free to browse the selection of African statues we have on this page. We update it monthly with unique pieces straight from Africa, and we offer well-packaged FREE shipping to the continental United States.

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