The journey you take when you begin to buy or study African sculpture is unlike any other. There are just so many different views on sculpture from Africa starting with origin, history, tribe, form, symbolism, and material used. Each sculpture adds a little more insight into the lives of the people in the community and the artist.
Most sculptures from Africa are in the human form but with a larger or elongated head. They can also have animalistic forms but almost all of these art works represent the same thing: balance in life.
The Horse Memorial
In Port Elizabeth, South Africa, one can find the Horse Memorial. It is a modern sculpture in remembrance of the over 300 000 horses that perished during the Second Boer War. Many of these horses used during the war came from Britain and bought for an estimated £7 million. The design was done by Joseph Whitehead and created in England before being shipped to South Africa in 1905.
The Benin Bronzes
The 13th century Benin Bronzes were responsible for bringing African art to the world. They were discovered in the 19th century by colonials in the Benin Kingdom, which is now known as Nigeria. It is believed that the metal used to create the Benin Bronzes came from the European traders who bartered their bronze bracelets for spices, ivory, and slaves. The bracelets were melted down and the sculptures were created.
The Human Form
African sculpture is defined mostly by the human form. The sculptures are believed to represent dead and living human spirits and gods. These sculptures are usually very smooth in texture and the human form always appears to be peaceful, composed and young. Most commonly, sculptures are done in wood or stone because these are the cheaper mediums. The key elements considered when sculpting include balance, design, finish, detailing, and craftsmanship.
Modern South African Sculptors
With a ready availability of art supplies, including sculpting tools, sculpting as an art is still very popular in South Africa and other African countries. There will always be a modern sculptor around, either trained by family artists or by studying in more formal settings. In South Africa, some of the popular sculptors are Csaba Markus, Yoka Wright, Jean Doyle, Louis Chanu, and Andre Stead.
The Purpose of Sculpture in an African Community
Most sculptures are done to communicate with other beings or spirits. Masks are used to ask for miracles, blessings, and gifts. There are sculptures, like fertility art sculptures, that roam the world and are displayed in museums. A woman who wants to get pregnant needs to rub her hand on the sculpture, if allowed by the museum curator. There are old wives’ tales of fertility sculptures impregnating unmarried women who touch it by mistake. Other sculptures are made to ask for a good harvest, rain, protection from disease and evil, good judgment, and as ceremonial figures during festivities and religious gatherings. In a way, you could say that the way some religions plead with esteemed humans, idols, or saints for help, Africans turned to these sculptures to bless them with good fortune and a way to avoid evil.