Africa (MAP 34-1) was one of the first art-producing regions of the world (see Chapters 1 and 15),
but its early history remains largely undocumented. In fact, a mere generation ago, scholars still of-
ten presented African art as if it had no history. For the period treated in this chapter, however, art histo-
rians are on firmer ground. Information gleaned from archaeology and field research in Africa (mainly
interviews with local people) provides much more detail on the use, function, and meaning of art ob-
jects produced during the past two centuries than for the period before 1800. As in earlier eras, the arts
in Africa exist in greatly varied human situations, and knowledge of these contexts is essential for under-
standing the artworks. In Africa, art is nearly always an active agent in the lives of its diverse peoples. This
chapter presents a sample of characteristic works from different regions of the continent from the early
19th century to the present.
Rock paintings are among the most ancient arts of Africa (FIGS. 1-3 and 15-2). Yet the tradition also con-
tinued well into the historical period. The latest examples date as recently as the 19th century, and some
of these depict events involving Europeans. Many examples have been found in South Africa.
Scholars use the generic name San to describe the peoples who occupied the southeastern coast of South
Africa at the time of the earliest European colonization. The San were hunters and gatherers, and their
art often centered on the animals they pursued.
BAMBOO MOUNTAIN One of the most impressive preserved San rock paintings (FIG. 34-2),
originally about eight feet long but now regrettably in fragments, comes from near the source of the
Mzimkhulu River at Bamboo Mountain and dates to the mid-19th century. At that time, the increasing de-
velopment of colonial ranches and the settlements of African agriculturists had greatly affected the lifestyle
A F R I C A A F T E R 1 8 0 0
34-1 Ancestral screen (nduen fobara), Kalabari Ijaw, Nige