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Africa - Traditional Arts of the Sub-Saharan Region

Africa is a vast continent of 30,420,000 square kilometres - four times the size of the U.S.A. It has an enormous diversity of cultures and climates. The pattern of population density is determined by the availability of water. Densities range from one person per square kilometre to more than 150.

The objects in this exhibition represent an entire way of life. Most would have had particular uses and special meanings; many would have been part of a much larger ceremony or series of activities. By itself, a piece of African art serves as a material reminder of the beliefs and values inherent in the original ceremonial context. And while the meaning of a work is often contained in its form and subject matter, this meaning is only truly known to its original users.

Art in Africa is not, as it is in the West, an activity separate from the reality of everyday living. Rather it permeates the lives of all people, giving meaning to every form of human behaviour; objects function as social, political and religious instruments; they do not exist simply as art.

Most African art is made of perishable materials such as wood, natural fibres and plants, and thus has a relatively short life span. The African artist is not making a lasting monument but a replacement. He skilfully creates a piece which embodies the concepts and beliefs of the society. In doing this, he links the past to the future through the object, conveying cultural values and traditions from generation to generation. It is the piece not the producer that is important; the piece manifests the spirit of the society.

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