Tuesday, January 17, 2017

The African Passport Masks

This beautiful passport mask certainly contains Kaba Ko - an African term referring to marvellous things that can be looked upon without limit.

Bassa Miniature Mask
African Masks are sacred objects. These passport masks functioned as a medium of communication between a person and their favoured ancestor. In their original context, miniature masks were integrated into a system of belief in which they functioned as spiritual guides and personal protectors.

The Dan believe that their world is split into two domains: the human domain which is represented by the village and its people, and the spiritual domain which is represented by the forest and its spirits.

These miniature masks were often carried for personal protection when living away from home, and in later years they were commonly understood to also function as a means of tribal identification. Asan Diop, of Abidjan, describes the role of passport masks:

Before Whiteman brought paper and pen to Africa, these small masks were the only form of identification that we Africans could carry with us. Each person owned a carving of himself and each tribe had its own kind of masks. This is the only way people could cross the frontier between tribal groups.

In a culture where hierarchy was based upon skill, carvers were highly respected. The masks were generally
Dan Miniature Mask
Liberia/Ivory Coast 
carved from a local rubber tree and always dyed either black or brown. This was done according to a long and delicate process to which the Bassa artist remained faithful, using colour obtained by the decoction of forest leaves.

Respected carvers would not sand the surface, but instead use their blades obliquely over and over again, generally lifting off shavings invisible to the layman's eye. The masks often acquire celebrated 'natural patina', from their exposure to the elements or frequent handling.

The beautiful depth of patina and the marvellous ability for such a small figure to attract one's attention further emphasises the mystery and power of this ''passport''.

Article courtesy of FHE Galleries: http://www.fhegalleries.com/ethnological/showArticle.php?file=04_23_africandanpassportmask.xml&year=2013
Images courtesy of the hamillgallery.com

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Friday, January 06, 2017

African Batik Art

The art of batik or wax painting is an ancient craft and technique used in Africa and many East Asian countries for decorating fabrics. The batik images or effects are achieved through the principle of wax and water repelling each other, called resist dyeing.

The artistic expression of working with melted wax on dyes is similar to that of painting with watercolor, oils or acrylics and the designs can be as complicated or simple as the artist's desire.

Since batik is a method of painting "negative space", the artist has to envision the complete design in-between shapes and figures when deciding where to apply the next color and the next application of wax.

Wax is painted on to the fabric and the color is filled into the fabric between the wax. The most popular ways of applying wax are either by painting it on with a brush or by pouring the liquid wax on the cloth. With a series of dyeing, drying and waxing steps the individual colors of the batik are applied.

After the last dyeing, the fabric is hung up to dry. Then it is ironed between paper towels or newspaper to absorb the wax and reveal the vibrant colors and fine crinkle lines that give the batik its character.

African batiks are unique pieces of art handcrafted by talented artisans. If you like to decorate with textiles or showing off your love for unique fabrics, then African batiks are definitely for you.

From home decor to quilting and other crafts, batiks will enhance any project with true African flair. Frame a batik, transform a batik into a wall hanging by simply stretching it with bamboo poles, make a pillow case out of batiks, decorate a handbag, make a lamp shade or incorporate a batik into your quilting project.

Let the batik speak for itself and let the beauty be in the eye of the beholder.

Article and image courtesy of World Travel Art - Great selection of African batiks from Mozambique and Tanzania.

Thursday, January 05, 2017

African Rock Art

Image courtesy of
Dr. Katherine Bolman
Ahaafoundation, Honolulu, Hi 96822
Rock paintings and engravings are Africa’s oldest continuously practiced art form.

Depictions of elegant human figures, richly hued animals, and figures combining human and animal features—called therianthropes and associated with shamanism—continue to inspire admiration for their sophistication, energy, and direct, powerful forms. 

The apparent universality of these images is deceptive; content and style range widely over the African continent. Nevertheless, African rock art can be divided into three broad geographical zones—southern, central, and northern. 

The art of each of these zones is distinctive and easily recognizable, even to an untrained eye.

Not all rock art in these three zones is prehistoric; in some areas these arts flourished into the late nineteenth century, while in other areas rock art continues to be made today.

In the Drakensberg Mountains of South Africa, a number of rock paintings depict clashes between San (Bushmen) people and European colonists mounted on horses and armed with rifles. Many of the Drakensberg works use subtle polychrome shading that gives their subjects a hint of three-dimensional presence.

pstrongThe Linton Panelstrongbr Image courtesy of the South African Museum Cape Townp
The Linton Panel
Image courtesy of the South African Museum, Cape Town

The product of many authors, time periods, and cultures, the flowing naturalism and lively sense of movement of the best rock art attests to the conviction of masterful hands and trained eyes.

Article courtesy of: Department of the Arts of Africa, Oceania, and the Americas. “African Rock Art.” In Heilbrunn Timeline of Art History. New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art: http://www.metmuseum.org/toah/hd/rock/hd_rock.htm (October 2000)