Ancient African Artists

Ancient African artists created some of the world’s first artwork. Ancient African artists first drew and engraved pictures on rocks more than 20,000 years ago.

Other ancient African artists used wood, ivory, bronze, and ceramics as time passed on. Ancient African artists created sculptures, masks, paintings, engravings, jewelry, and pottery.

They also preferred to create three dimensional pieces of artwork like sculptures and masks and did not create much two dimensional artwork such as paintings.

First ancient African artists

The first ancient African artists worked were hunter-gathers that roamed the vast continent for food and water.

They created their ancient artwork on rocks. The first ancient African artists crafted pictographs on rocks using red ochre, charcoal and ash. The drawings depict animals and humans like shepherds.

After the domestication of cattle in ancient African the pictographs displayed herds of animals. Shamans also created pictographs with drawings of animal/human figures specific to their beliefs.

Later stage of ancient African artists

Ancient African artists began to use different materials to spread their ideas of artwork. For instance, Sao African artists used bronze as earlier as 600 B.C. E. to make pottery, ornaments and masks.

Nok African artists thrived in the area of present day Nigeria and crafted sculptures of animals, heads, and figures beginning around 500 B.C. E. These ancient African artists used bronze but primarily terracotta.

Many of the materials used by ancient African artists like wood have decayed over the years due to the harsh climate that ranges from desert to mountains to rain forest.

Ancient African artists themes

The themes that are prominently used by ancient African artists was considered abstract art and not naturalistic art.

The artists concentrated more on three dimensional objects and not painting which is considered two dimensional. They focused on the human body in the artwork.


Ancient African artists did not create art to hang on the wall but for ceremonies or performances.

Ancient African artists and artwork influenced several well-known artists of the 20th century like Picasso, Vincent van Gogh and Matisse.

Materials used by ancient African artists

Ancient African artists used a variety of materials in their works. Wood was a preferred material for masks and sculptures. Unfortunately wood rots and is easily consumed by the billions of termites on the continent.

Terracotta and bronze offer the best preserved pieces of ancient African artwork. Intricate sculptures made of bronze were perfected during by the Igbo-Ukwu kingdom in Nigeria.

Ancient African artists used a variety of materials to make adornments on masks, sculptures, pottery, and jewelry.

Artwork was adorned with gold, ivory, gem stones, and several pigments or dye such as red ochre, charcoal, and ash.

Important facts about ancient African artists

  • Ancient African artists preferred creating three dimensional pieces such as sculptures, masks, jewelry, and pottery.
  • The earliest ancient African artists painted rocks which are known as pictographs.
  • The most used material by ancient African artists was wood that could not withstand the African climate and billions of termites.
  • Nok African artists used terracotta to create animals, heads, and figures.
  • The preferred theme was the human form.
  • Ancient African artists concentrated on abstract art instead of naturalistic artwork.
  • Ancient African artists crafted artwork such as masks for ceremonies and not to hang on the wall.
  • Ancient African artists influenced well-known 20thcentury artists like Picasso, Vincent van Gogh and Matisse.


  1. What was the preferred form of artwork created by ancient African artists?

Three dimensional pieces

  1. Why are wood masks and sculptures hard to preserve?

Termites and the Africa’s climate

  1. What type of art is considered to the oldest created by ancient African artists?

Rock paintings also known as pictographs

  1. What famous 20thcentury artists were influenced by ancient African artists?

Picasso, Vincent van Gogh and Matisse