West Africa is associated with magic and witchcraft, more so than other African regions. The art that emerges from this area either represents elements of the spirit world or are designed to be used in magical spells or for witchcraft. For these reasons, art holds an important and powerful position within the West African culture. It decorates religious shrines and is even believed to have influence over supernatural forces.
With increased materials and an evolution in technology, cultures and even thinking, West African art has also transformed into something more sophisticated, combining the import of the traditional with the stylisation of the modern. Interestingly, within West African art are many different approaches to the subject and medium, determined by smaller nations and societies within the larger region.
The remnants of the first pieces of art that have been found are dated at 2000 years old. These pieces were made from clay and metal. As the metalwork developed, artists eventually began to make tools and farming implements from this material. This allowed these cultures to leap forth in leaps and bounds, and agriculture remains a powerful financial spine to this day. Clay art also developed into useable pieces, mainly for cooking and storage. Nigerian ceramic sculptures have been dated back to 500 BCE (Before our Common Era).
Each culture used materials that were easily available to them. Therefore, the Ghanaian group called the Ashanti used gold extensively in their pieces, as it was easily accessible to them. In contrast, the Baule used dark wood and terracotta, which they sourced locally and from Coté d’Ivoire. As with many other areas of Africa, West Africans did not decorate their art simply for the sake of including striking colours or even for realism. Instead, decoration was used for the purpose of conveying religious or tribal messages, opinions and stances.
Because culture and ancestry is such an integral part of the West African peoples, they have, for the most part, managed to maintain their loyalty to traditional art while slowly incorporating slightly more modern twists. This provides viewers from the world over with an opportunity to delve into a rich, deep culture while still being able to identify with a reasonable degree of modernity.