The Changing Face of African Art

By Christopher D. Roy
University of Iowa

Bwa people, village of Dossi, Burkina Faso, plank masks with head musician, 1985. Photo by Christopher D. Roy. 

I am often asked if Africans continue to make the objects we see in museums.  Yes, they do, but Africans, like people everywhere, constantly change and adapt to new challenges and develop different strategies for dealing with the unpredictability of life.  While many Africans use art to solve the same kinds of problems their ancestors faced, many others have adapted to life under colonial governments, to life after independence in 1958-62 and to life in contemporary African cities. Change has been brought about by contact between one people and another since the beginning of time. As they are forced to deal with ever changing problems, Africans develop new means of dealing with them.  Objects like the masks seen here continue to be made in ever-changing forms and colors to deal with the new challenges of life.  African art is hardly a dying art, after all these photos were taken less than a decade ago, and you might see the same masks perform were you to visit the community today.