Pre-Colonial Foundations
primitive = relating to, denoting, or preserving the character of an early stage in the evolutionary or historical development of something; having a quality or style that offers an extremely basic level of comfort, convenience, or efficiency; not developed or derived from anything else; rudimentary
Assignment Proposal and Presentation Topic
due on Monday, September 13
Copper head. Found at Wunmonije Compound, Ife, Nigeria. Late 14th-early 16th century.






















Tools and ochre found in the Blombos Cave
animal facing left from the Apollo 11 Cave
Engraved ochre and bone tools, Blombos cave, South Africa, ca. 75,000 - 80,000 BCE.
Animal facing left from the Apollo 11 Cave, Namibia,
ca. 23,000 BCE.












Although varying widely in style, some shared beliefs between the people of Africa have led to common expressive conditions:
  • Ancestors are honored
  • Nature deities worshipped
  • Tendency to understand rulers as sacred
  • Art is integrated into daily life rather than set aside as special
Running horned woman from Tassili n’Ajjer, Algeria, c. 6000 - 4000 BCE. Running Horned Woman, 6,000-4,000 B.C.E.










Nok Culture


Earliest African sculptures in the round outside of Egypt and Nubia
  • First discovered in 1928 during tin mining operation
  • Nature deities worshipped
  • Tendency to understand rulers as sacred
  • Art is integrated into daily life rather than set aside as special
Nok head, from Rafin Kura, Nigeria, c. 500 - 200 CE. Terracotta, 1' 2" high.











Nok male figure, 500 BCE - 500 CE. Terracotta, 19' 1/2" high.
Head from Lydenburg, South Africa, sixth to eighth century CE. Terracotta, 1' 2" high.










Legendary Mother with Progeny, Mali c. 1000 - 1500 CE. Terracotta, 1' 2" high.
King from Ife, Nigeria, 11th to 12th century. Zinc brass, 1' 6" high.











Ife Culture
Benin Culture











Benin Culture

Benin culture developed before 1400 and was at the height of its influence in 15th and 16th centuries

  • Experienced slow decline
  • 1897 Royal palace sacked and burned by British
  • Partially rebuilt
  • Benin King continues to reside in the palace
Head, Guinea Coast, Nigeria, Benin Kingdom, possibly mid 16th or early 17th century.











  • May have been commissioned by Oba Esigie (reign c. 1504 - 1550)
  • May represent Esigie's mother who served as an advisor
  • Honored with the title of "Queen Mother"
  • Olokun = god of the sea; wealth and creativity; responsible for abundance and prosperity
Belt Mask of a Queen Mother, Benin, Nigeria, mid 16th century. Ivory and iron, 9 3/8" high.











Master of the Symbolic Execution, saltcellar, Sapi-Portuguese,
from Sierra Leone, 15th to 16th century. Ivory, 1' 4" high.












Mother and child, Kongo, 19th or early 20th century.
Wood, glass, glass beads, brass tacks, and pigment, 10" high.











  • Consecrated by priest through ritual
  • Believed to heal and give life
  • Owners appealed to the figure's forces every time they inserted a nail or blade, prodding the spirit to do its work
  • Spurred awe
  • Size proportionate to the number of people served
Nail figure, Kongo, c. 1875 - 1900. Wood, nails, blades, medicinal materials, and cowrie shell, 3' 11" high.











Dogon Seated Couple, Mali, c. 1800 - 1850. Wood, 2' 4" high.
"Beautiful Lady" dance mask, Senufo, Cote d'Ivoire, late 20th century. Wood, approx. 1' high.