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The continent of Africa takes up more than a fifth of the Earth’s surface. It is a land of dramatically contrasting climates. Stretching across most of northern Africa is the vast Sahara desert, while the Kalahari and Namib deserts cover large areas of southern Africa. In the centre of the continent, around the equator, are steamy tropical forests. On either side of the rainforests lie hot, dry grasslands, known as savannah. Closer to the coasts, where the weather is cooler, there are woodlands and mountains.


Type of Art in Africa

The type of art that people produce depends on where they live in Africa.


Southern edge of West Africa: They live near the rainforests, and have developed strong traditions of woodcarving, West Africa is also rich in iron and gold, so fine metalwork is produced here.

cooper metal

Type of Art in Africa

The type of art that people produce depends on where they live in Africa.


The herders of the grasslands and Sahel areas make artworks that are easily portable, such as baskets and head stools.

Tutsi crafts person sells their bowls and baskets

At this market Tutsi crafts person sells their bowls and baskets  

Early art in Africa

The Egyptian produced the earliest form of art in Africa. Around 1600BCE the Nubian people’s kingdom of Kush in what is now Sudan started to grow in importance. There were power struggles between the Egyptians and Nubians, but by around 750BCE the Nubians were the most powerful people on the Nile. The Nubians produced fine wall paintings, jewellery, pottery and sculpture.


In around 500 BCE the Nok people in West Africa discovered how to use iron. They melted iron in furnaces and used it to make strong tools. These tools used their furnaces to fire dramatic pottery heads.   These are the earliest known examples of terracotta sculptures in Africa.


The wandering people of the desert, who travel very lightly, concentrate on the arts of the body, such as body painting and jewellery making.



wandering people of the desert concentrate on body painting

Art found on Rocks

Painting found that existed in 6000 BCE, and were created at a time when people survived by hunting, show wild animals such as elephants, giraffes, rhinos and ostriches in incredible detail
Arts on Rocks

Art found on rocks showed men as cattle herders as well as hunters. Works from this ‘cattle period’ are less realistic than earlier examples, with slightly twisted, elongated figures. The ‘horse period’ began around 1500BCE. At this time, horses, sheep and dogs started to appear in paintings and engravings, and artists developed a more simplified, abstract style.

In painting of the most recent ‘camel period’, dating from around 1000BCE to the present day, desert animals, such as camels and goats made an appearance. This change in the art reflects what was actually happening in the area, as the grasslands dried up and became desert. The figures in these works are often small and simple, and many of the paintings look almost like diagrams.