The Influence of African Art on Sculpture

The Influence of African Art on Sculpture

Through the 19th century, European artists were drawn to African sculpture as a source of inspiration for their abstract designs. The powerfully carved Fang reliquary figure (right) particularly caught the eye of many painters and sculptors.

African art has a broad and deep impact. It can serve to express various values such as entertainment, political or ideological significance, ritual context, and aesthetic value in its own right.


Symbolism in art refers to the use of images, words and objects to represent concepts, events or people. This technique can be employed across any type of writing but it’s most prevalent within literature. Utilizing symbols can help craft a more realistic or captivating storyline and also serve to make your work memorable for readers.

Sculpture often employs symbols that are more abstract and general than those employed in writing, as it can be more difficult to convey meaning through words alone. Furthermore, symbols often elicit emotion from readers, helping them connect with your work.

Artistic symbols such as animals and flowers are iconic in design, but many other items can also be symbolic. For instance, the caduceus is a common representation of medicine in symbolism.

Another example is the raven, which often symbolizes death in poetry. Edgar Allen Poe’s “The Raven” uses this symbol to represent his ongoing grief over losing Lenore.

It is essential to be aware that symbols have different interpretations depending on the culture in which they originate. For instance, red roses might symbolize passion or anger in western cultures, while Asian cultures might associate them with sadness or compassion.

When creating sculpture, there are many ways symbols can be employed. Ultimately, the most suitable use will depend on your artistic style and the subject matter being depicted. For instance, a raven sculpture could convey grief over someone’s loss while a flower could symbolize love or passion shared between two characters.

The Symbolist movement was an art movement that emerged in the late 19th century and challenged materialistic ideologies dominating European society at that time. They employed various motifs and symbols to convey deeper messages; these included anthropomorphic figures, dark spirits and biblical events. Artists used these representations of abstract thought to create allegorical works of art.


Sculpture is the art of crafting physical objects for aesthetic enjoyment. Like music and movies, sculpture conveys a particular reality or emotion by combining personal beliefs and experiences with specific materials or techniques. Generally, the artist strives to make their creation appear as realistic as possible.

Traditional African sculpture is a diverse discipline that was mostly created before European colonization of Africa. Therefore, it’s common to find works of art from precolonial Africa that exhibit distinct stylistic differences from Western Europe’s fine arts traditions.

This tradition is characterized by forms that draw inspiration from natural forms or abstract ideas rather than specific people or cultures. This trend towards abstraction can be seen in the work of many modern artists, particularly through geometric simplification and expressive shapes found in the works of progressive artists such as Braque, Picasso, and Matisse.

Traditional African sculpture is unique in that the form is always subject to light. Light plays an integral role in creating figurative art, giving the illusion of shape and dimension. As such, sculptors must have an intimate knowledge of light direction and intensity from outside sources.

Due to this, sculptors can decide how their work will be illuminated and what effect the light has. This requires training and practice; in some cultures patrons or other authorities expect certain forms to be repeated; whereas, it’s up to the artist to invent new shapes that are both attractive and appropriate for the piece.

In some instances, the same form can be rendered differently for different contexts, such as a mask worn by a dancer to enhance their performance. Sculptors also often employ one basic shape to elicit various emotions such as joy or anxiety when viewing an animal in art.


Color has long been used as an effective tool in human communication. It can lift spirits and elicit strong sensations, which is why many artists use it to convey their emotions or elicit responses from their audiences.

Color has a profound effect on art, from small fabric swatches to an entire wall. Color psychology has demonstrated that people respond differently to certain hues based on individual experience as well as cultural and personal factors. It’s important to remember that these responses are subjective based on individual factors.

African artists often express their emotions through colour. They use various hues to represent various emotions such as excitement or romance. Furthermore, they have used hues to signify anger, sadness, and even despair.

Another way artists have used color is symbolism. They often depicted animals or other objects with certain hues to convey a message. Animals such as tortoises, crocodiles and pythons that move between land and water can be seen as representing the transition between our world of humans and that of spirits (Fig. 126).

African art often depicts witches, wizards, tamers, clowns and circus performers with vibrant colors and an expressive style.

African art often incorporates symbols of life and warmth, such as the sun. These can be seen as positive elements in African artwork.

Furthermore, the sun is often depicted as a symbol of power and authority in sculptures that depict royalty or rulers.

African art is unique in its use of masks. These are usually worn during ceremonies and rituals as a means for people to communicate with spirits or gods. Although the style may differ from region to region, these masks often share similar design elements and functions.


The Influence of African Art on Sculpture

African art can be observed in many different aspects, including the material used. This could range from everyday objects to textiles, industrial substances or even things we cannot touch or see (such as sound).

When creating sculpture, artists often select materials based on their qualities and how they will affect their work. These characteristics may include softness, roughness, hardness, weight, lightness or abrasion.

Through the 20th century, artists began using unexpected materials to craft their masterpieces. This could range from everyday objects and textiles, to industrial substances like metal.

Material combinations can be combined to produce stunning artworks that have become highly sought after and adorn homes of collectors around the globe. Many of these pieces were even crafted using natural resources such as wood or ivory that were plentiful at the time.

Furthermore, artists often incorporate other art forms into their sculpture, such as painting or drawing. This helps to create more captivating works of art and adds to the symbolic significance of each piece.

One important element of African art on sculpture is the design itself. Typically, this will have a symbolic meaning related to the creator’s beliefs which can be seen in both its aesthetic appeal as well as the colours and shapes used.

This can be accomplished through the use of various techniques such as brushwork, various painting styles and the inclusion of various elements within a work of art. Nigerian Okwui Enwezor’s artworks, for instance, showcase African art styles which have become widely collected and exhibited.

In the past, many African artists preferred using wood for their sculptures due to its abundance and natural material that made it easier for them to work with. However, this preference has now shifted and some now prefer other materials like bronze.