Key Moments in Life

By Christopher D. Roy
University of Iowa

One of the measures Westerners seem to use in judging African art is whether Africans produce “art for art’s sake.” Given the fact that, in the past, very little European art was made simply to hang on the walls of museums, and that almost all Western art had a role to play in the religious and political life of the community until the latter part of the 19th century, the question is not particularly relevant. Yet the question can still be answered: Africans make art for life’s sake. The objects that we are about to study have been made and used as eloquent expressions of Africans’ ideas about their relation to their world and as tools to help them survive in a difficult and unpredictable environment. African art can no more be isolated from the lives of the people who make or use it, than can the art of the rest of the world.