African Art & Craft

A Contemporary African Mask. Image thanks to en.wikipedia

If African art, which uses natural objects to enhance its appeal, is considered to be the start of art as we know it, then it must follow that crafts originated from Africa as well. Much African art from the early ages, or before 500 BC, used bark, mud, feather, hair, and animal hide as decorating elements. Isn’t that what we do with modern-day craft hobbies?

The Great Debate about African Art

Many still believe that Africa did not produce art; instead it created crafts. The manner that Africa used different items on their art pieces is African craft. This is not a view held by art experts and historians who stress that art comes in different forms, including the use of indigenous materials, to create a special effect. No one is winning this debate, and it would appear that it only confirms that Africans have an intrinsic knowledge of how to use whatever is available to arrive at a desired effect. Whether this is considered art or craft is not something worth arguing about.

African Craftsmen

They are also called master craftsmen and there was always one in every community who was given utmost respect and honour. These men developed their skills without letting go of their heritage, and their skills were highly coveted. Back then, there was no such thing as leaving your name on every art work you did, so no one outside of the community or tribe, and especially years after, knew who they are.

The different crafts practiced by Africa were ceramics, pottery, beadwork, metal ware, the making of dolls, and the weaving of baskets. Each craft work created was done for a purpose, which is why African crafts are considered utilitarian.

The craftsmen were of the belief that their hands were tools of a higher being, and they were just the medium. Today, craftsmen still exist but have more options in embellishments but at the same time experience more difficulties in finding indigenous materials. Nonetheless, they are still highly appreciated and have more income potential than ever before.

Modern African Crafts

African art has a special distinction of being called art and craft at the same time. Many of the African crafts on the international market are being sold at higher-than-expected prices, which leads back to the question posed by “the Great Debate”.

According to leading anthropologist, Leon Siroto, “Those who can afford them want to possess them, and this desire transmutes them into African Art.” If you own authentic crafts and want to implement them in an interior design strategy, consider getting in touch with the experts at DesignBook.co.za: their insights could do much to enhance the project you have in mind.

One popular craft, ceramics, has seen an upsurge in South Africa, and lead to the creation of the Ardmore Ceramic Art Studio in the Drakensburg Mountains in 1985. The studio is owned by Fee Halsted and Bonnie Ntshalintshali who got together for practical reasons and decided to start creating ceramic pieces to be sold as art work.

Their efforts paid off immensely when they won the 1990 Standard Bank Award for young artists. They expanded to include painting and sculpture, aside from ceramics. They created functional pieces that soon became collector’s items. Although art rarely fetches the sums of money associated with Stellenbosch property (and the likes of hotels in Umhlanga), one of their art pieces, done by one of the studio’s artists, Wonderboy Nxumalo, sold for over R200 000 Rand which was way over the estimated value of R35 000.

Ardmore is now more than just a place where ceramics are made. It has become a training ground for new artists and a home for aging artists. As long as you are a member of Ardmore (you have to pass an exam to be considered a member), you can benefit from the artists’ fund. This fund is comprised of 6% of any sale made as an Ardmore artist.