African art is a term used for the art of Sub-Saharan Africa. The continent is full of people, societies and civilizations, each with a unique visual culture. The definition also includes the art of the African Diasporas. Despite this diversity, there are some unifying artistic themes.
The term African art usually doesn't include the art of the North African region along the Mediterranean coast.
The majority of African sculpture was historically in wood and other natural materials that have not survived from earlier than a few centuries ago. Some older pottery figures can be found from a number of areas. Masks are important elements in the art of many people, and highly stylized. Masks in particular were made for religious ceremonies. African masks were an influence on European Modernist art, which was inspired by their lack of concern for naturalistic depiction.
Later West African cultures developed bronze casting to decorate palaces.
Many West African figures are used in religious rituals and are often coated with materials placed on them for ceremonial offerings.
Eastern Africans, in many areas shorter of large timber to carve, are known for Tinga Tinga paintings and Makonde sculptures. Modern Zimbabwean sculptors has achieved considerable internation success.
The origins of African art lie long before recorded history. African rock art in the Sahara in Niger preserves 6000-year-old carvings. Along with sub-Saharan Africa, the western cultural arts, ancient paintings and artifacts, and indigenous southern crafts also contributed greatly to African art. Often depicting the abundance of surrounding nature, the art was often abstract interpretations of animals, plant life, or natural designs and shapes. In West Africa, the earliest known sculptures are from the Nok culture which thrived between 500 BC and 500 AD in Nigeria, with clay figures.