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Styles & Periods
African Art

The term "African art" encompasses the various artworks of more than 50 distinct nations and a period of more than a millennium. Africa includes cultures that have been non-literate up until a few generations ago, and those who have been reading and writing Arabic for nine hundred years. The African landscapes range from arid deserts to lush river valleys. Many African cultures prefer a nomadic or semi-settled lifestyle; others have erected large palaces - such as those in 16th century Benin. African arts exhibit no less variety. Rock art has been produced in Africa from 25,000 B.C.E. up to the 19th century. Textiles, scarification, jewelry, painting, sculpture, architecture, and festival arts (such as masquerade) all have an established place in the African arts arena. Art-making is commonly divided along gender lines, though collaborative art is usual as well, and the accomplishments of individual artists, while recognized, are generally not given as much prominence as in the West. Another commonality among the diversity of African art is its primacy in African cultures. Rather than serving merely to adorn, arts in Africa are part of the ideology and cultural construction of societies. A distinction is seldom made between the so-called "fine" and "applied" arts; indeed, most African languages have no word for "art" as it is expressed in the West, indicating the seamless integration of art into the lives of African peoples. "Objects" of art in Africa derive meaning, even as they imbue meaning, contextually; the way a mask, for example, is perceived will change drastically depending on the perspective of the viewer as spectator, wearer, buyer or collector.


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