Call/whatsapp: +2348077215645, +2348176196229  Email:


research project writing and materials




Traditional African art was generally characterized by its relative functionality and aesthetics. Art was a functional and necessary part of everyday life for traditional Africans. Religion, government, education, work and entertainment were all inter-related components in traditional African societies. Whether tangible or intangible, all forms of artistic expressions were deeply woven into the very fabric of their socio-religious context; playing central roles, in establishing a cohesive community. Activities such as folktales and festivals, helped achieve this bound.

Igbaro (2010) in writing about art and religious development in Nigeria adduces that, “art permeates every strata of life, because it was then prestigious to be associated with art and art works, more also that, it was religiously expedient to do so.” In pre-colonial Africa, the belief in the supernatural and the worship of ancestors, through rituals and festivals, were very significant phenomena on which Africans base most of their life happenings. Religion, just like art, was intimately tied to all life endeavours, which made a common identity between religion and art inevitable.

Art objects were employed as vehicles for spiritual communication in diverse ways. Some were created for use on altars and shrines. For instance, in the kingdom of Benin, cast brass commemorative heads, are placed on royal ancestral altars, where they serve as a point of contact with the king’s royal ancestors, as well as, keeping the memories of their reign alive. Christa (2006) describes annual rite of renewal among the Bwa, as means to seek the continued goodwill of nature spirits. Personal misfortunes, such as illness, death, or barrenness, or community crises, including war or drought, are also causes to petition the spirits for guidance and assistance. Africans engaged in religious practices with a desire to engage the spiritual world in the interest of social stability and well-being. This is as a result of their belief that, all humanity’s fortunes and misfortunes occurred as a function of the disposition of the supernatural god. Art did not just serve religious functions in pre-colonial African life, it also served several salient functions in the totality of the African existence; affirming one of its numerous definitions that reads – ‘art is life’. Art also functioned in beautification; it functioned politically, economically, socially, culturally, educationally, and in several other spheres of life, including solving domestic challenges.

Certain visual elements, however, were incorporated into these African art forms. These visual elements were neither encompassed in the work as a fluke, nor as a result of the artist’s limitation in the interpretation and representation of his visual perception; but were adopted to serve metaphorically symbolic functions. These visual elements, mostly in human figures, were enlarged, reduced or totally distorted from their natural form. For instance, the distortion of the head, navel, female breast or male reproductive organ, as seen in Nok art, Akuaba art, among others, does not signify incompetence on the part of the artists, but was deliberately done, for symbolic emphasis. For instance, in the traditional Yoruba sculptural representation, the head is usually blown out of relative proportion, to the rest of the body to signify the supernatural importance placed on the head, as a symbol of an individual’s identity and destiny, as well as serving as a metaphorical emblem of leadership.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

× Make inquiry/Contact us?