The Art of Africa: Handmade Masterpieces and the Symbolism of Animals

The Art of Africa: Handmade Masterpieces and the Symbolism of Animals

July 08, 2024


African art, renowned for its vivid colors, intricate designs, and profound symbolism, has long captivated the world. Among the myriad forms of African art, paintings hold a special place, offering a window into the continent's rich cultural heritage and diverse traditions. One of the most compelling aspects of African paintings is that they are typically handmade, a practice that imbues each piece with uniqueness and authenticity. Furthermore, a significant number of these paintings prominently feature animals, each with its own symbolic meaning and cultural significance. This blog delves into why African paintings are handmade and why animals are a recurrent theme, exploring the historical, cultural, and artistic contexts that make these artworks so distinctive and meaningful.

The Tradition of Handmade African Paintings

Historical Context

Handmade art has deep roots in African history, tracing back to ancient times when early humans created cave paintings and rock art. These early artworks, found in various parts of Africa, were created using natural pigments and rudimentary tools, highlighting the longstanding tradition of handcrafted artistry on the continent. Over the centuries, this tradition evolved, with artisans developing more sophisticated techniques and materials while maintaining the essence of handmade craftsmanship.

Cultural Significance

In many African cultures, the process of creating art is as important as the final product. Handmade paintings are often seen as a form of spiritual and cultural expression, with the artist's hands believed to imbue the work with a part of their soul and energy. This belief underscores the importance of the personal touch in African art, where mass production and mechanical reproduction are often viewed as detracting from the work's authenticity and spiritual value.

Artistic Techniques and Materials

The techniques and materials used in African paintings are integral to their handmade nature. Artists typically use natural pigments derived from minerals, plants, and other organic sources, mixed with binders such as egg, tree sap, or oil. These traditional methods result in vibrant, enduring colors that are unique to each region and artist. The tools used, such as brushes made from animal hair or twigs, further contribute to the distinctiveness of handmade African paintings.

Economic and Social Factors

Handmade art also plays a crucial economic and social role in many African communities. Artisans often rely on their craft as a primary source of income, and the sale of handmade paintings supports local economies and sustains cultural practices. Additionally, the process of creating art can be a communal activity, fostering social bonds and passing down skills and traditions from one generation to the next.

The Symbolism of Animals in African Paintings

Connection to Nature

Animals have always held a special place in African cultures, reflecting the deep connection between humans and nature. This relationship is evident in the frequent depiction of animals in African art, where they are often portrayed with great reverence and attention to detail. African societies have long relied on animals for sustenance, companionship, and labor, and these creatures feature prominently in folklore, mythology, and spiritual beliefs.

Symbolic Meanings

Each animal depicted in African paintings carries its own symbolic meaning, often tied to specific cultural beliefs and traditions. Here are some common animals found in African art and their associated symbolism:

  1. Elephant: Representing strength, wisdom, and leadership, elephants are often associated with royalty and power in many African cultures. Their majestic presence in paintings symbolizes stability and longevity.

  2. Lion: The lion, known as the king of the jungle, symbolizes courage, bravery, and protection. In many African societies, lions are revered as guardians and protectors, both in the physical and spiritual realms.

  3. Zebra: The zebra's distinctive black-and-white stripes symbolize harmony and balance. In some cultures, they are also seen as a representation of community and the importance of working together despite differences.

  4. Giraffe: Giraffes, with their long necks and gentle demeanor, are often associated with foresight, intuition, and grace. They are seen as symbols of looking ahead and being able to see the bigger picture.

  5. Birds: Various bird species in African paintings can symbolize freedom, communication, and the connection between the earth and the sky. Birds are often considered messengers between the physical and spiritual worlds.

  6. Crocodile: In some cultures, crocodiles are seen as symbols of adaptability and survival due to their ancient lineage and resilience. They can also represent danger and power.

Storytelling and Mythology

Animals in African paintings are not merely symbolic; they are often central characters in the rich tapestry of African storytelling and mythology. Many African cultures have oral traditions where animals play key roles in fables and myths, teaching moral lessons, explaining natural phenomena, and conveying cultural values. These stories are brought to life in paintings, where the depicted animals serve as visual narratives that preserve and communicate important aspects of cultural heritage.

Spiritual and Ritual Significance

In addition to their symbolic and narrative roles, animals in African paintings often have spiritual and ritual significance. Many African religions and spiritual practices involve animal totems and deities, where animals are believed to embody specific spiritual qualities or serve as intermediaries between humans and the divine. Paintings featuring these animals are used in rituals, ceremonies, and as protective talismans, highlighting their integral role in the spiritual life of the community.

The Aesthetic Appeal of Handmade African Paintings Featuring Animals

Unique Artistic Styles

Handmade African paintings are characterized by a diversity of artistic styles, each influenced by the cultural and environmental context of the artist. From the vibrant, abstract patterns of West African art to the intricate, realistic depictions found in East African paintings, these works showcase a wide range of techniques and aesthetics. The handmade nature of these paintings ensures that each piece is unique, reflecting the individual artist's creativity and skill.

Use of Color and Pattern

Color and pattern are central to the aesthetic appeal of African paintings. Artists often use bold, contrasting colors and intricate geometric patterns to create visually striking compositions. These elements are not only decorative but also imbued with cultural meanings and symbolism. The use of natural pigments, combined with traditional techniques, results in a distinctive and vibrant palette that is instantly recognizable as African.

Emotional and Cultural Resonance

Handmade African paintings featuring animals resonate on an emotional and cultural level. The depiction of animals, with their symbolic and spiritual significance, evokes a sense of connection to nature, community, and heritage. These paintings serve as a visual representation of cultural identity, preserving and celebrating the traditions and beliefs of African societies.

Global Influence and Appreciation

The unique qualities of handmade African paintings have garnered global appreciation, influencing artists and collectors worldwide. The authenticity, cultural richness, and aesthetic appeal of these works have made them highly sought after in the international art market. Exhibitions and galleries dedicated to African art showcase these paintings, bringing greater recognition and appreciation to the artists and their cultural heritage.


Handmade African paintings are a testament to the continent's rich artistic traditions and deep cultural heritage. The practice of creating art by hand, using traditional techniques and materials, imbues each piece with uniqueness and authenticity. The frequent depiction of animals in these paintings reflects the profound connection between humans and nature, with each animal carrying its own symbolic meaning and cultural significance. Through their vibrant colors, intricate patterns, and evocative imagery, handmade African paintings offer a window into the diverse and dynamic cultures of Africa, celebrating the beauty and depth of the continent's artistic legacy.

Bringing African Art to Your Home

At, we celebrate the rich heritage and profound symbolism of African art by offering a curated selection of handmade paintings that depict animals and wildlife. Our collection showcases the unique artistic styles and cultural traditions of talented African artisans, each piece telling a story of nature, community, and spiritual significance.

Whether you're drawn to the majestic presence of an elephant, the graceful elegance of a giraffe, or the vibrant energy of a zebra, our paintings capture the essence of Africa's diverse wildlife and the deep connection between humans and nature. Each artwork is crafted with care, using traditional techniques and natural materials, ensuring that you receive a piece of authentic, handmade African art.

By purchasing from, you not only acquire a beautiful and meaningful artwork but also support the artisans and communities who create these masterpieces. Explore our collection today and bring the beauty and spirit of African wildlife into your home.

Size Guide

Centimeters (CM)

Inches (IN)

50CM x 40CM

19 11/16 in X 15 3/4 in

50CM x 50CM

19 11/16 in X 19 11/16 in

60CM x 60CM

23 5/8 in X 23 5/8 in

70CM x 50CM

27 9/16 in X 19 11/16 in

80CM x 60CM

31 1/2 in X 23 5/8 in

100CM x 80CM

39 3/8 in X 31 1/2 in

140CM x 110CM

55 1/8 in X 43 5/16 in