The Changing Face of African Art

By Christopher D. Roy
University of Iowa

Joseph Chukwu (ca. 1900-1986, Utu Etim Ekpo, Abak, Akwa Ibom State)
Mami Wata figure, ca. 1975
Wood, fiber, pigment
59.69  x 50.8  x 20.32 cm (23 1/2  x 20  x 8 in)
University of Iowa Stanley Museum of Art, Gift of Pamela J. Brink, RN, PhD, 1991.225

African art is as durable as Africans themselves.  It changes to meet new needs.  It is more appropriate to define African art as an art driven by change than an art driven by conservatism.  If African art serves as a tool for dealing with adversity, then just as a carpenter uses a new tool to deal with a new task, Africans invent new art to solve new problems.  The ability of Africans to adapt to new economic, social and political pressures has allowed them to survive, and their art continues to flourish as an expression of their resilience and as a weapon in their struggle. As an example, the figure of Mamy Wata carved by Thomas Chukwu in 1972 is an African response to the introduction of capitalism in Africa and to the measure of personal well-being by the accumulation of material goods.