African Paintings - by Moyo Ogundipe

To say that African painting is complex and diverse is an understatement. To be ironically referred to as the Dark Continent, this region has produced some of the most visually stunning and emotionally moving pieces of art the world has ever seen. Both in the past and in the current African art world, the people of this part of the globe are famous for their thought provoking depictions of their lives. As similar as many paintings may be in subject matter, they are incredibly diverse in theme and composition. Some display the despair of a sometimes chaotic political climate while others offer a refreshing look at life in such a natural, beautiful environment.

One of the most famous forms of African painting is the amazing works that have been found created on rock. The carvings and paintings discovered are considered to be the oldest form of art on the continent. While many of these unique African paintings date to prehistoric times, the tradition lives on to the present day. Many are thought to be depictions of sacred gods or deities and are images of creatures that have both human and animal traits and characteristics. To come forward a little in time, other rock paintings show clear examples of the native people’s clashes with European settlers in the time period in which Africa was being colonized. African painting had its beginning in these well composed and artfully rendered rock paintings.

Contemporary African paintings are no less complex and visually enchanting. As with the past artists, modern African painters also depict the ever changing world around them for good or bad. While the choice of materials, techniques, and styles vary widely there is one element that seems to tie many African artists together: a common use of iconography. That isn’t to say that there is no discernible difference in artists’ work. There certainly is, only that they seem to work with a common bond.

One example of a contemporary African artist who has enjoyed much influence during his lifetime is Cheri Samba. This Congo born painter began his career without any formal training and has produced several African paintings which depict life in an area that is torn apart by civil unrest and corruption. The ability of his African art paintings and commentary to so clearly paint a picture of a world constantly interfered with by outside forces, like the Western world, is a remarkable gift to African painting.

Another well known African artist is Zwelethu Mthethwa. His contributions to African painting are often a portrait of life in South Africa. He tends to render his visions in pastel chalks. Having lived through apartheid and the social ramifications of that time period, he paints with the themes of alienation and separatism. Mthethwa’s work is truly a reflection of one of Africa’s darker eras.

From its conception of rock paintings to the present day, African artists teach us all a little more about this fascinating region. African art paintings are a rich, diverse art form. From strife and unrest has come some of the most remarkable artwork in the world.

About the Author:

Mr. Moyo Ogundipe has a Bachelors of Arts degree in Fine Art from the University of Ife, Ile-Ife, Nigeria and a Master of Fine Art degree in Painting from The Hoffberger School of Painting, Maryland Institute College of Art, Baltimore, USA.

One of Africa’s most celebrated and renowned contemporary Nigerian artists, Mr. Ogundipe has exhibited extensively in Africa, Europe and the USA.

In 1996, Mr. Ogundipe was awarded the Pollock-Krasner Fellowship. And in 2005 he was invited to become a member of Africobra, an organization founded in the 1960s and whose membership comprises of distinguished African-American artists.