The familiarity of African art

When you have been to an art exhibition, you find that you can easily classify the pieces into the nostalgic that tell the stories of a time before ours and the ones that celebrate life as we know it. Such distinction is near impossible with African art. 

Every subject on canvas, textile, wood… is as ancient as it is present. The hunters returning home with their kill are not from a history book; they are someone’s father, uncle, cousin, brother who still hunt for a meal. Each one of us has taken part or at least witnessed the wild dance on batik; and we were the baby strapped to the back of a woman balancing a bundle of firewood on her head and a basket of fresh food in her arms. It is so very familiar that chancing upon a piece of African art on another continent is akin to catching a glimpse of the motherland.

Mama Love.jpg

Though more artists are taking on new styles; abstract, photographic, modernist and the like, the African signature is stylised art. The artist takes liberty to represent human form and still life using unexpected shapes and proportions; nothing looks like it should but the viewer is clear on what it is. It could well be because the artists have mastered the art of clarity in the obscure or maybe it is because it really is all very familiar that we can discern what an art piece says regardless of the mystery within which it is enshrouded.

Pamela Otali

African Arts/Uganda

Katy Carlisle