Traditional African Art

About

A broad museological category for the traditional art of sub-Saharan Africa, this category brings together the diverse material culture (including everything from sculpture to textiles to everyday items) of hundreds of disparate groups across Africa. After centuries of being relegated to ethnological displays and curio cabinets, traditional African art entered into the European consciousness (and museums) as “art” at the turn of the 20th century, in part through its association with the European avant-garde. European modernists admired the aesthetics of what they called “Primitive Art,” a designation that conflated African art with traditional Oceanic and pre-Columbian art, reflecting the racial and cultural bias against non-White, non-Western cultures at the time. In the 1960s and 1970s, when the study of African art in Europe and America took a scientific and anthropological turn, the term “Tribal Art” was considered preferable to the derogatory connotations of “primitive.” While “Tribal Art” is still used by some experts and collectors today, others reject it for failing to treat African art distinctly. The term “Traditional African Art,” though still problematic for its reductive grouping of diverse cultures under one geographic umbrella, is generally favored today.

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