The Evolution of African Paintings Over Time

The Evolution of African Paintings Over Time

April 06, 2023

The art of Africa is as old as human history. African paintings, in particular, are among the earliest and most enduring art forms, with a rich history and a diverse range of styles and techniques that have evolved over time. From the ancient rock art of the San people of Southern Africa to the contemporary works of artists like El Anatsui, African paintings have undergone significant changes and developments throughout the centuries.

The earliest examples of African paintings can be found in the rock art of the San people, who lived in the southern part of the continent over 30,000 years ago. These paintings were created using natural pigments and depict various animals and human figures in a stylized and symbolic manner. The San people believed that their art had magical properties, and it was often used in religious ceremonies and rituals.

Another early form of African painting is Nubian art, which emerged in what is now modern-day Sudan over 5,000 years ago. Nubian paintings were typically done in bright colors and depicted daily life, animals, and religious scenes. These paintings were often created on walls, pottery, and other surfaces and were used to tell stories and record important events.

In West Africa, the art of the Benin Kingdom flourished between the 13th and 19th centuries. The Benin Kingdom was known for its intricate bronze sculptures and plaques, which depicted royalty, animals, and scenes from everyday life. These works were often created to honor the king and were used in religious ceremonies and rituals.

The 19th century saw significant changes in African paintings, as European colonial powers began to exert influence over the continent. During this time, many African artists began to incorporate European techniques and styles into their work. This fusion of styles resulted in a new form of African art, known as the colonial school.

The colonial school of African painting was characterized by a combination of traditional African styles and European techniques. Many colonial school artists used oil paints and canvas, a departure from the natural pigments and rock surfaces used by earlier African artists. The subjects of colonial school paintings often included European and African figures in everyday scenes, and the style was heavily influenced by European Realism and Impressionism.

In the early 20th century, a new generation of African artists emerged who rejected the colonial school and sought to create a new form of African art that was free from European influence. These artists, known as the modernists, embraced the rich history and cultural heritage of Africa and sought to create works that were both modern and uniquely African.

One of the most prominent modernist artists was the Nigerian painter Ben Enwonwu. Enwonwu's work was characterized by its vibrant colors, bold shapes, and strong, stylized figures. His paintings often depicted African folklore and mythology, as well as contemporary African life. Enwonwu was also a prominent sculptor, and his bronze statue of Queen Elizabeth II was the first public sculpture of the Queen to be commissioned by a former British colony.

In the 1960s and 1970s, a new movement in African painting emerged, known as the post-colonial school. This movement was characterized by a rejection of European styles and a return to traditional African techniques and subject matter. Post-colonial school paintings often depicted African life and culture, and many artists used traditional materials such as bark cloth, mud, and wood to create their works.

One of the most influential post-colonial school artists was the Ghanaian painter El Anatsui. Anatsui's work was characterized by his use of found materials, such as bottle caps and discarded metal, to create large-scale tapestries and sculptures. His work explored themes of globalization, consumerism, and the relationship between Africa and the West.

In recent years, African painting has continued to evolve and adapt to new influences and changing societal attitudes. Contemporary African artists are increasingly experimenting with new styles and techniques, blending traditional African art forms with modern elements and international art trends.

One of the most notable developments in contemporary African painting has been the emergence of new art movements and collectives that seek to promote African art and culture on a global scale. These groups often draw on traditional African art forms and techniques, while also incorporating contemporary elements such as digital media and street art. Some examples of these movements include the AfrikaBorwa Artists' Collective in South Africa, the Nubuke Foundation in Ghana, and the Invisible Borders Trans-African Photography Initiative.

Another significant trend in contemporary African painting is the use of art as a tool for social and political commentary. Many artists are using their work to address issues such as colonialism, racial inequality, and political corruption. One notable example of this is the Nigerian artist, Victor Ehikhamenor, whose work often explores themes of cultural identity and the effects of globalization on traditional African societies.

Furthermore, African artists are increasingly making use of digital media and technology to create new forms of art that are more accessible and inclusive. The rise of social media and digital platforms has enabled artists to share their work with a global audience and to connect with other artists from around the world. This has led to the emergence of new forms of African art, such as digital art and video installations, that are more interactive and immersive.

Another significant development in African painting has been the growing recognition and appreciation of African art on the global stage. African artists are increasingly being recognized and exhibited in major art galleries and museums around the world, and there is a growing demand for African art among collectors and investors. This has led to the emergence of new markets for African art, particularly in Asia and the Middle East, where there is a growing interest in contemporary African art.

In conclusion, African painting has a rich and complex history that spans thousands of years and encompasses a wide range of styles and techniques. From the ancient rock art of the Sahara to the vibrant contemporary paintings of today, African painting has continued to evolve and adapt to new influences and changing societal attitudes. Today, African artists are using their work to address pressing social and political issues, to explore new forms of art and technology, and to connect with a global audience. As African painting continues to evolve and grow, it remains an important and influential part of the global art scene, and a testament to the rich cultural heritage of the African continent.

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