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Types of East African Art

Types of East African Art

The arts of Africa constitute one of the most diverse legacies on earth. While many observers tend to generalize "traditional" African art, the continent is full of peoples, societies, and civilizations, each with a unique visual culture.

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From c. 6000 B.C.E., rock drawings in Africa have included representations of animals and hunters. From the beginning of tribal differentiation, tribal art has become a way of isolating one tribe from another, and tribal art can take the form of scarification, (to create a design on the skin by means of shallow cuts that are sometimes rubbed with a colorant or irritant to enhance the resulting scar tissue), body painting, or sculptural masks used in religious ceremonies. Diversity also appears in separate geographical regions, where natural resources controlled the materials used, while tribal power, wealth, or sophistication was responsible for the type of objects produced.


Often, African art production has been related to ritual or tribal ceremonies, as well as serving more secular decorative functions. However, it is not always easy to determine the function of a particular work. In many tribes, the artist had a high status, but the artist would not necessarily have been the equivalent of the western fine artist who relied on patronage or the marketplace to regulate their production.

In the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, European colonizers "discovered" African art and it was embraced by Modernist artists for its lack of pretension and exciting formal qualities. With the Westernization of much of African society, "traditional" art became commercialized and sold as souvenirs. While from the 1920s, the growth of African art colleges in more modernized sections of Africa has led a number of African artists to adopt Western influences in their work. At the same time, more-established African artists have seen the sale price of their work increase as it became the object of serious artistic consideration.

The art of the Makonde, an ethnic group in southeast Tanzania and northern Mozambique, is subdivided into different areas. The Makonde are known as master carvers throughout East Africa, and their statuary can be found both in tourist markets and in museums. They traditionally carve household objects, figures, and masks. Since the 1950s, the so-called Modern Makonde Art style has developed, with an essential step being the adoption of abstract figures, mostly spirits (Shetani), that play a special role in the genre. The Makonde style is also represented by important contemporary artists of Africa, such as George Lilanga.

Africa is home to a great and thriving contemporary art culture. This has been sadly understudied until recently, due to scholars' and art collectors' emphasis on traditional art. Notable modern artists include Zerihun Yetmgeta, Olu Oguibe, Lubaina Himid, and Bill Bidjocka. Art biennials are held in Dakar, Senegal, and Johannesburg, South Africa. Many contemporary African artists are represented in museum collections, and their art may sell for high prices at art auctions. Despite this, many contemporary African artists tend to have difficult times finding a market for their work. Many contemporary African arts borrow heavily from traditional predecessors.



Exhibition of Contemporary African Art was pioneered by the October Gallery in London and many famous collectors, like Jean Pigozzi and Gianni Baiocchi in Rome, who taught other art collectors like Olivier Doria d'Angri the secrets of collecting nice and inexpensive works. Searching for African Art has become a speedy process thanks to the development of computerized search engines. More exposure comes from the trend of sponsoring African art by banks including Deutsche Bank, Merrill Lynch, Goldman Sachs, Barclays, and BNP Paribas. Exhibiting artists at the Venice Biennale, held every calendar year, and Documenta have helped the movement that was ready to benefit from the explosion in art prices at auctions. Modern works are relatively affordable and easy to find. Recently, online-video-game installations have also taken part in the price action. It is not unreasonable to envisage further positive developments thanks to the sponsoring of web sites, Casinos, and listed companies from South Africa, acting as a hub for all the continent's works.

Tingatinga is an African painting style that developed in the second half of the 20th century in the Oyster Bay area in Dar es Salaam (Tanzania) and later spread to most East Africa. Tingatinga is one of the most widely represented forms of tourist-oriented paintings in Tanzania, Kenya and neighboring countries. The genre is named after its founder, Tanzanian painter Edward Said Tingatinga.



Tingatinga is traditionally made on masonite, using several layers of bicycle paint, which makes for a brilliant and highly saturated colors. Many elements of the style are related to requirements of the tourist-oriented market; for example, the paintings are usually small so they can be easily transported, and subjects are intended to appeal to the Europeans and Americans (e.g., the big five and other wild fauna). In this sense, Tingatinga African paintings can be considered a form of "airport painting".

The drawings themselves can be described as both naïve and caricatural, and humor and sarcasm are often explicit. We have a broad range of African art for sale. Visit our homepage and see our full collection.



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