African folk art is created for both practical and spiritual purposes.

African folk art is created for both practical and spiritual purposes.

With the inner-connectedness of today’s global community, many people are trying to amass a collection of art from around the world. One area of the globe that is rich in cultural traditions that date back for centuries is the continent of Africa. African folk art is an interesting genre in itself, due to the many ways that traditional artists use their creations. African folk art is used to either meet everyday, practical needs, or to symbolize or praise the community’s spiritual concerns. 

Everyday Needs

Art in this category may include a basket that is used to carry grain or other goods, or a walking stick that is used to make your way from the village to the marketplace. The quality of the artwork comes by making an everyday item a real work of art.

Instead of using a utility basket to go out and gather vegetables and fruit from their garden, women in some African communities will work hard to create a basket that mirrors their personality or their family’s homeland. Many women will weave baskets for gifts for others, so that whenever the basket is used, the recipient will recall the maker fondly. Sometimes the homes in African communities are filled with baskets made of many different types of materials and colors. It is truly a beautiful way to demonstrate that the women care about each other. 

The same sense of community can be shown with unique walking sticks. A carved walking stick is a type of African folk art that many men use every day in some areas. In some African communities, if one man carves a stick for someone else, it is a sign of true brotherhood and appreciation. Sometimes there are men in the village who are known particularly for the beauty of their carved walking sticks; and one of their creations is highly valuable.~

Spiritual Displays

Another type of African folk art that is common around the continent is the religious or spiritual creation. Some art collectors would be interested in obtaining Christian icons, such as carved images of cathedrals or holy temples. There are many villages that carve traditional gods and goddesses for their spiritual benefits, such as an iron fertility goddess whose purpose is to bless new marriages, or a drum that is much more than simply a musical instrument. For many villages, drums are how the community communicates spiritual beliefs. Once you see these lovely displays of African folk art, you will understand why they are often used in community rituals.

Who are the Artists?

If you are not impressed by the talent it takes to produce these breathtakingly beautiful works of art, you may be amazed at who exactly it is that creates them. While some of the artwork is designed by professionally trained artists, much of the available African folk art is made by the hands of regular villagers.

Many local villages across the continent of Africa struggle with devastating poverty, child mortality and political unrest. For these villages, the most lucrative way for residents to make money is to design and create artwork to see through nongovernmental organizations and worldwide charities. By purchasing one of these works of art, you are doing more than enriching your art collection; you are, in fact, helping to alleviate a bit of the challenges that these artists face on an everyday basis.