How I Fell in Love with African Traditional Art

Jacques Barie

Introduction

I first fell in love with African art when I was living in New York City. It was the summer of 2008, and my boyfriend and I were about to take a trip to South Africa for his 30th birthday. He wanted us to spend some time exploring the country’s museums and galleries before we headed out into the wilds of Kruger National Park. That first museum visit changed everything: it showed me that there was so much more to African culture than big cats and safaris!

The first time I saw a mask, it was in an old bookstore.

One morning, I went to an old bookstore in my city. I was looking for a book on African art and culture. As soon as I entered the store, my eyes fell upon a small mask on the shelf in front of me. It looked like an animal face with two horns sticking out from its head.

I picked up the mask and examined it closely; it was made from some kind of clay material that had been painted black with white dots all over its surface–the kind of pattern typical of many traditional African masks. The backside was smooth without any decoration at all; there were no holes for attaching strings or wires either so I couldn’t wear it around my neck like most people do when they buy these types of items from vendors during festivals such as Carnival (Mardi Gras).

It was also the first time I’d ever been to Africa and the first time I had really contemplated traveling there.

It was also the first time I’d ever been to Africa and the first time I had really contemplated traveling there.

I’d always wanted to go, but it wasn’t until I met a friend who had traveled through East Africa and shared her experiences with me that I knew this was something I wanted for myself. She told me about how beautiful it was, how diverse each culture was from the next and how welcoming people were when they met travelers from other countries. She talked about meeting local artists and buying their paintings, telling me about how much she loved them as well as learning more about their cultures through these objects.

It made me want to see those same things for myself!

In my mind, Africa was all about safari trips, wild animals and dusty roads.

In my mind, Africa was all about safari trips, wild animals and dusty roads. While there is still plenty of that to be found in Africa (and it’s amazing), there are many other aspects of its culture that I had never considered before. For example:

  • African art. You’ve probably heard about this before but if you haven’t seen any African art then you really need to check it out! It’s truly amazing and the creativity behind some pieces will blow your mind.
  • The different cultures within Africa too–there are so many different languages spoken across the continent because each country has its own unique history which has influenced their language development over time (think French vs English). Each culture has its own traditions as well; for example South Africans tend to speak English while Zimbabweans prefer Shona as their first language instead!

As a non-tourist, I never thought about visiting museums or galleries or cultural centers.

I never thought about visiting museums or galleries or cultural centers. I didn’t have time for that, and besides, I was too busy trying to make a living. I spent most of my time working in corporate America and traveling on business trips around the world.

I’m sure you can relate: every day seems like it’s chock full of work projects, deadlines, meetings–and even though you’re doing what you love (or at least enjoy), there aren’t many opportunities for creative expression outside of your job description. This lack of creative outlets can lead people down dark paths where they feel unfulfilled and directionless with their lives–and this is something I’ve seen happen too many times before!

When I started exploring African art, though, I realized that there was so much more to African culture than big cats and safaris!

When I started exploring African art, though, I realized that there was so much more to African culture than big cats and safaris. It’s not just about the final product: it’s also about the process by which that product was created. And if you really want to understand African art as well as its creators’ intentions for it, then you must dig deeper into their culture.

I’ve come to appreciate how much work goes into creating these pieces–whether they’re masks or sculptures–and how much knowledge is required before an artist can produce such beautiful works of art. It’s not just about tribal art; there are many different kinds of traditional arts from various countries throughout Africa (for example Mali).

There’s so much more to African art than just masks and sculptures.

There’s so much more to African art than just masks and sculptures. Don’t get me wrong, those are amazing too. But there are also sculptures that you can hold in your hand, paintings on fabric, arts made from recycled materials and even jewelry that tells stories about its wearer’s life or family history.

African art is a vast subject with many different styles and traditions; this means there is something for everyone! To help give you an idea of what African artists create (and how beautiful it can be), I’ve collected some examples for this post:

Conclusion

I’m so glad I started exploring African art and culture. It’s opened my eyes to a whole new world that I never knew existed, and it’s given me a deeper appreciation for the diversity of human creativity. If you’re looking for something new or different in your life, I encourage you to check out some of these amazing artists’ work!

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