African Art

The Berlin West Africa conference was among the most important treaties that led to the partition of Africa as a whole. The treaty was called for by the Portuguese and hosted by a German chancellor Otto von Bismarck. The treaty was aimed at easing the rising tensions between European states as they scrambled for Africa. The treaty spelt out that the Congo region was to be neutral and guaranteed free trade for all states in that basin (Shillington, 2012). In addition, the French acquired majority of the West African region apart from Nigeria and the Gold Coast which went to the British. The British also took up the East and Southern Africa. Germany on its part got a couple of protectorates, four to be precise.

On the issue of colonialism and African culture as a whole, we cannot fail to look at Yinka Shonibare’s work. He clearly uses his art work to confront the issue of class and race. He noticeably questions the true meaning of national and cultural identities and even describes himself as a post colonial hybrid. He shows the effects of colonialism on the culture of the West African people. In addition, he plainly shows through his art that the Europeans influenced the culture of the West Africans to a large extent in terms of education and even religion. He uses his headless mannequins to effectively depict this and also the inequalities between the Europeans and Africans during the colonial period.

Immanuel Kant first wrote about Africa in his work Observations on the Feeling of the Beautiful and Sublime (1764). He clearly stated that blackness was both representative of ugliness and stupidity. He however was to change his stance on Africa and blackness as a whole in his The Critique of Judgment (1790). He declares that Africans did have their own standards of beauty which were someway different to the European view. This was as a result of the revolutionary role that the cotton gin played in the New World Slavery and increased trafficking of black people to which this gave rise to.

The French and the British took up different forms of colonization. For one the French used assimilation while the British used indirect rule. These two methods differed greatly. For one, the British used the already set up traditional governments and used the traditional rulers as chiefs while the French appointed assimilated persons to rule. In addition the British treated their colonies as separate states and territories while the French treated their colonies as overseas provinces. To this fact laws that governed French colonies were made in France while those that governed British protectorates were made within the protectorate by those in charge (Shillington, 2012). In addition, assimilated Africans in French colonies become French citizens but those in British colonies remained colonial subjects. All in all indirect rule favored African culture and helped preserve it while assimilation viewed it as backward and undermined it.

Kwame Appiah in his article; Why Africa? Why art? Quotes ‘what unites these objects as African, in short, is not a shared nature, not the shared character of the cultures from which they came, but our ideas of Africa, ideas that have now come to be important for many African, and thus are now African ideas too.’ This quote clearly shows that Africans have started appreciating themselves for who they are and it even manifests itself in the art that Africans do. In the past Africans saw themselves as inferior in all aspects to the whites but now are beginning to accept themselves and see themselves in equal measure. This has led to African ideas that are synonymous with Africans and proudly African.


Shillington, K. (2012). History of Africa. Palgrave Macmillan.