06. Africa, Art & Humanities

AP Art History: Cultural Contexts of African Art

AP Art History: Cultural Contexts of African Art
*Note: The enduring “Enduring understanding,” “Learning Objective,” & “Essential Knowledge” language comes from the 2019 AP Art History Curriculum and Exam Guide.

Enduring Understanding: Art and art making take many different forms both within and across cultures, and the materials, processes, and techniques employed may also vary by location and culture with wide-ranging influence on the art that is generated.

Learning Objective: Explain how materials, processes, and techniques affect art and art making.

Essential Knowledge: Art in Africa is a combination of objects, acts, and events, created in a wide variety of media (vocal, aural, and visual) and materials (wood, ivory, metals, ceramic, fiber, and elements of nature) that are carved, cast, forged, modeled, woven, and combined by recognized specialists often for knowledgeable patrons.

Enduring Understanding: Cultural practices, belief systems, and physical setting constitute an important part of art and art making and are often communicated in various stylistic conventions and forms. Such cultural considerations may affect artistic decisions that include, but are not limited to, siting, subject matter, and modes of display, and may help to shape the creation of art in a given setting or within a given culture.

Learning Objective: Explain how cultural practices, belief systems, and/or physical setting affect art and art making.

Essential Knowledge: Human life, which is understood to have begun in Africa, developed over millions of years and radiated beyond the continent of Africa. The earliest African art dates to 77,000 years ago.

Essential Knowledge: Early artistic expression on the African continent is found in the rock art of the Sahara and in southern Africa. Those works depict the animals that lived in each region, human pursuits (e.g., herding, combat, and perhaps dance or some sort of regularized behavior), contact among different groups of people, and the use of technologies (e.g., horses and chariots).

Essential Knowledge: The now-deserts of the Sahara were once grasslands and an original source of agriculture and animal husbandry. As the desert grew, it stretched toward the still well-watered valley of the Nile and the culture of pharaonic Egypt.

Essential Knowledge: Art reveals belief systems; it presents a world that is known but not necessarily seen, predictable, or even available to everyone. These arts are expressive rather than representational and often require specialized or supernaturally ordained capabilities for their creation, use, and interpretation. African art is concerned with ideas (beliefs and relationships that exist in the social and intellectual world) rather than with objects of the natural or physical world.

Essential Knowledge: As in all arts, aspects of human experience (such as origins, destinies, beliefs, physicality, power, and gender) are expressed through objects and performances. Artistic expression in Africa is an integral part of social life, connecting daily practices to beliefs, systems of power and authority, and social networks that link people to their families, communities, and shared ancestors. African arts mark status, identity, and cycles of human experience (e.g., maturational, seasonal, astronomical, and liturgical).

Essential Knowledge: Urbanization and its monumental trappings (both bureaucratic and architectural) often associated with “civilization” take many forms in Africa. Administrative and liturgical centers exist apart from settlement that is often determined by the spaces required for agriculture or herding. Seasonal climatic shifts and demands of political relations affect the scale and distribution of built environments and arts that mark them. The sites of Meroë, Timbuktu, Zimbabwe, Igbo Ukwu, and Kilwa Kisiwani demonstrate that range of monumentalities.

Urbanization & Monumental Architecture:

    • 168. Great Mosque of Djenné. Mali. Founded c. 1200 ce; rebuilt 1906–1907 CE. Adobe.
    • 167. Conical tower and circular wall of Great Zimbabwe. Shona peoples (Southeastern Zimbabwe). c. 1000–1400 ce. Coursed granite blocks.
    • 169. Wall plaque, from Oba’s palace. Edo peoples, Kingdom of Benin (Nigeria). 16th century CE. Cast brass.
    • 180. Veranda post of enthroned king and senior wife (Opo Ogoga). Olowe of Ise (Yoruba peoples). c. 1910–1914 CE. Wood and pigment.

Enduring Understanding: A variety of factors leads to and motivates interaction between and among cultures, and this interaction may influence art and art making. Such cultural interaction may result from factors including, but not limited to, travel, trade, war, conquest, and/or colonization, and may include forms of artistic influence such as spolia, appropriation, and stylistic revivals, among other expressions of cultural exchange.

Learning Objective: Explain how interactions with other cultures affect art and art making.

Essential Knowledge: Human migrations carried populations southward into central Africa and eventually across the Congo River Basin. The arts, major world religions, and international trade routes followed those paths and flourished in patterns of distribution seen in Africa today.

Essential Knowledge: Outsiders have often characterized, collected, and exhibited African arts as primitive, ethnographic, anonymous, and static, when in reality Africa’s interaction with the rest of the world led to dynamic intellectual and artistic traditions that sustain hundreds of cultures and almost as many languages, contributing dramatically to the corpus of human expression. African life and arts have been deeply affected by ongoing, cosmopolitan patterns of interaction with populations around the world and through time.

Essential Knowledge: Creative contributions of African life and arts are found in populations around the world. Artistic practices were conveyed by and continue to be serviced by African people and beliefs, from Macao to Manaus to Mauritania. These creative contributions are reflected in diverse art forms, from the practices of Santeria to Japanese screens and the paintings of Renaissance Venice. The literatures of Negritude and the Harlem Renaissance expanded the notions of place and race to new levels that are again changing in the contemporary diaspora. Although traditional African art forms are usually described and exhibited, contemporary African arts have increased awareness and understanding of the arts of the continent across the globe.

Suggested Works:

  • 168. Great Mosque of Djenné. Mali. Founded c. 1200 ce; rebuilt 1906–1907 CE. Adobe.
  • 169. Wall plaque, from Oba’s palace. Edo peoples, Kingdom of Benin (Nigeria). 16th century CE. Cast brass.
  • 170. Sika dwa kofi (Golden Stool). Ashanti peoples (south central Ghana). c. 1700 CE. Gold over wood and cast-gold attachments.
  • 171. Ndop (portrait figure) of King Mishe miShyaang maMbul. Kuba peoples (Democratic Republic of the Congo). c. 1760–1780 CE. Wood.
  • 172. Power figure (Nkisi n’kondi ). Kongo peoples (Democratic Republic of the Congo). c. late 19th century CE. Wood and metal.
  • 173. Female (Pwo) mask. Chokwe peoples (Democratic Republic of the Congo). Late 19th to early 20th century ce. Wood, fiber, pigment, and metal.
  • 176. Ikenga (shrine figure). Igbo peoples (Nigeria). c. 19th to 20th century ce. Wood.
  • 178. Aka elephant mask. Bamileke (Cameroon, western grassfields region). c. 19th to 20th century ce. Wood, woven raffia, cloth, and beads.
  • 180. Veranda post of enthroned king and senior wife (Opo Ogoga). Olowe of Ise (Yoruba peoples). c. 1910–1914 CE. Wood and pigment.

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