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African art masks, African paintings and African art patterns

Posted by cultureafrico on February 28, 2011

African art masks, African paintings and African art patterns

The mask plays a very important role in traditional African art and life, particularly spiritual life. Masks are used during special events likeceremonies and celebrations and their purposes range from honoring and entertaining to initiating or blessing, while at the same time serving as both disguise and protection for the wearer. Usually, African masks are carved of wood but some are made with other materials such as cloth or clay, and they can also be painted and decorated with other things like beads, feathers and various trinkets.

On their own, masks are considered to be somewhat inert, but when someone wears a mask and full costume and dances with the ritual music and singing that comes with that, that’s when the mask becomes more than a piece of art, it becomes a powerful spiritual force. It is because of this power that certain masks possess during a performance that some people aren’t allowed to look at them even if the ritual takes place in a public place.

Some masks are worn on top of the head as opposed to being worn on the face and these are usually used in rituals that range from the investment of power in a local king to the blessing of land for cultivation.

As far as African paintings go, one can consider that the very beginnings of African art were paintings done on slabs of rock in caves over twenty-six millennia ago, images depicting animals, rituals, herding and food preparation. However paintings, like those we find in Europe were never found in Africa most probably because they didn’t have paper till European colonists started appearing as well as the fact that they moved their painting onto their main art forms which were masks and figures.

Despite this, it is important to note the fact that African art as a whole inspired a great deal of Western art in the twentieth century and this includes a lot of painters, probably the most famous amongst them being Pablo Picasso. African art inspired and influenced the many art trends that happened during the first half of the twentieth century like cubism, surrealism, expressionism.

Traditional African symbols and signs can be found in items one uses daily like pottery or textiles as well being carved or painted on wood, leather works, and of course on jewelry, amulets, and tattoos. Algeria’s Kabyle women for instance paint with their fingers on pottery and upon the walls of their village homes and a lot of their shapes and symbols have a particular resemblance to Neolithic pottery found in the region. Originally believed to carry various magical qualities and attributes, such as having healing powers or guarding against misfortune and the evil eye, these signs and symbols assume new forms and meanings when they’re used in contemporary art pieces.

Modern artists combine these traditional signs, symbols and patterns with magical numbers or stylizing traditional symbols, thus tapping the unconscious mind in order to create abstract work that references both the past and present.

One Response to “African art masks, African paintings and African art patterns”

  1. nice

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