While colonization ended in the 1950s, the effects continue to be felt in Africa today. This can be seen in how art and culture are still defined by Eurocentric ideals, beliefs, and attitudes. The messages in much of art created before colonization are similar to those from modern art, but with African aesthetics. Post-colonialism occurs when Africans create their own work that expresses a style that is their own but still appears to be influenced by Western artists like Picasso or Matisse.

The art made during the colonial period aims to represent “Western” ideals, as well as African ways of life. African art is often defined by a particular style: for instance, a sculptor may create a piece with an Afro hairstyle. European colonial artists from other countries were brought to Africa in order to create art that would reflect the Western ideals of beauty and wealth present in the colonizers’ home countries. In return, these artists were able to learn from their African counterparts, who influenced the new styles being created by these Europeans.

A common example of these styles is sculptures of people juxtaposed with landscapes or natural features. Despite the lack of reference to a specific culture or ethnic group, these pieces tend to revolve around a broad theme: the power of nature and the relationships between humans and animals.


Why is African art referred to as pre-colonial, colonial, and post-colonial?

African art is often referred to as pre-colonial, colonial, and post-colonial. The distinction between these three terms can be very confusing. Art labeled as pre-colonial is made before the arrival of Europeans in Africa and artwork labeled as post-colonial continues to be produced after the departure of Europeans.

The pieces show many styles and influences from African cultures. In many instances, these works have been influenced by different countries that found themselves in Africa during the European colonial period, including China, India, Japan, Persia, and others.

  • Pre-colonial: Artwork is often labeled as pre-colonial because it was created before European colonization. Many of these pieces point to an African style that has been affected by different countries and cultures, creating a melting pot of styles that are now connecting with other parts of the world.
  • Colonial: Colonial art refers to artworks created after European colonization began in the 1500s. Artwork made during colonial times shows many influences from the colonizer, including European techniques and mediums, as well as subjects and forms. While some pieces remain distinctly African, others are heavily influenced by early Western settlers.
  • Post-colonial: Post-colonialism is defined as an emerging language used by newly independent African nations that were ruled by European colonists for over 500 years. Post-colonial art is a broad and varied style that includes sculpture, collage, painting, and many other mediums.

European colonization began in the 1500s and has resulted in different African countries having colonies under different European nations. Many African countries were colonized by Britain, France, Germany, and more. Exploring this connection reveals an interesting history of the continent’s relationship with the West that isn’t widely discussed.