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Part I

The first chapter examines the early forms and centres of art. The ancient period is represented by monuments of the rock art of the Sahara and North, South and East Africa. The earliest monuments of rock art date back about ten thousand years. The sculpture is considerably younger. The most ancient ensembles of African sculpture date from the 5th century b.c, to the 2nd century a.d. (Nok culture). In tropical conditions, only objects of durable material survive the test of time. We know of only a few groups of the old sculpture: Nok and Sao (terracotta), Nomoli, Pomdo, Mintadi, Akvanchi (stone), Ife (bronze and terracotta), Ezie (stone), Benin (bronze), Afro-Portuguese (ivory) and certain others.

A special characteristic of the ancient sculpture is its comparative realism and an­thropomorphism. The biggest ensembles in which these characteristics are expressed most vividly - those of Ife and Benin - are the heritage of the early class states of Tropical Africa. The art of Ife and Benin is a typical example of professional court art.

The specific forms of court art are connected with the corresponding ceremonial and express the ideas of domination and the sacred nature of power. Thrones, recades, sceptres, staffs, fans and other objects of court art are particularly notable for their exquisite, extravert decoration. Court art has a distinctly expressed prestige character: the usual cult symbolism is replaced by symbols of power and of the monarch's personal might.

Compared with the traditional art, this art is more flat and specific and content, more naturalistic in form. The art of the professional craftsmen is the next stage in relation to the more advanced forms of traditional art.

The second chapter deals with the concretely subject analysis of traditional art. Hitherto, there has been no generally accepted classifica­tion of the traditional sculptures. Attempts to systematise this material have not produced the desired results.

It is an elementary task of formal analysis on the basis of which the classification of sculpture is structured, to determine the degree of abstractness and the special characteristics of style.

To determine the degree of abstractness calls for the comparison of the artistic image with the model from which it derives, and to establish the special characteristics requires the comparison of various styles. Since, in traditional art, each artistic image is a modification of natural forms, stylistic analysis may be said to have as its objective the determination of the quantity and quality of deformation.

As a result of the preliminary summary analysis and grouping of artistic schools accord­ing to stylistic signs in common, four big regions have been identified: West Sudan, the coast of Guinee, the Congo basin and East Africa.

Inside each of these, there are several main centres to which, in some degree, all the remaining schools of art in the given region belong.

In accordance with the number of such centres, each zone is divided into several kindred stylistic groups. The biggest number of such relatively isolated groups is furnished by the Guinee coast, which is divided into three zones: West, Central and East. From the Congo ensemble we isolate the artistic schools of Gabon and the adjacent regions. The least organic is the East African zone (some of the local artistic centres could be attributed to the Congolese group). The most homogeneous in stylistic terms is West Sudan.

Although this region remained open to the influence of Islam, the cultures of the West Sudanese peoples have not lost their originality. Up to the time of European colonisation, the majority of them preserved their clan and tribal structure, their autochthonous religions and their old artistic traditions.

The mode of life, the material culture, the social system, the mythology, folklore beliefs and rituals make it possible to speak of a definite culture common to the peoples of West Sudan - the Dogons, Mossi, Kouroumba, Bobo, Lobi, Senoufo, and also the Bambara, Malinke etc.

It is possible to distinguish in West Sudan two main centres to which the other schools of art in that region belong to a greater of lesser extent. The core of one of them is the art of the Tellem - Dogons, the other is that of the Bamba­ra. The art of the Mossi, Kurumba and Bobo belongs to the Dogon school; the Malinke, Khasonke and Marka to the Bambara. Senoufo art, which in the northern regions has stylistic features close, on the one hand, to the art of the Bambara, and, on the other, to that of the Dogons, acquires in the south features charac­teristic of the sculptures along the Guinee coast.

In ethnic, linguistic and cultural respects, the peoples of the Guinee coast from Senegal to Gabon present a variegated picture. Peoples speaking the same language can belong to different ethnic groups, and the frontiers of contemporary states not infrequently divide the ethnic groups into several parts. It is natural that the cultural and artistic evolution of each territorially isolated part should have begun acquire its own specific features.

The artistic heritage of the peoples on the Guinee coast is a source of very rich material, making it possible to study the archaic forms of creative art and also the highly developed kinds of art practised by the professional craftsmen.

The first of the three big groups representing the art centres of the Guinee coast is the "West" one (from Senegal to the West Ivory Coast) and includes the artistic schools of the Baga, Bidyogo, Mende, Kissi, Dan, Guere and others. The second is the "Central" (from the eastern part of the Ivory Coast to the Niger delta) and covers the traditional art of the Baoule, Gouro, Ashanti, Yoruba etc. The third is the "East" group (from the Niger delta to Gabon) - the Ibo, Idjo, Ibibio, Ekoi, Bamoum, Bamileke and many others. Here also, as in West Sudan, we have, by means of stylistic analysis, identified a series of the more important artistic schools, which include, among others, those of the Baga, Dan, Mende, (West group); Baoule, Yoruba (Central group); Igbo, Ekoi, Bamileke (East group).

The heart of the Congolese ensemble is the territory of the Republic of Zaire, to which may be added Gabon, the Democratic Republic of Congo (Brazzaville), and also the northern regions of Angola.

The overwhelming majority of the Congo population belongs to the Bantu language family. The relative uniformity of the local economic and cultural forms is largely determined by the specific natural conditions. The seminomadic way of life, low population density, the lack of means of communication and the exclusiveness of the family groups account for many of the special characteristics of local development - art included. One factor influencing artistic evolution was the existence here in the 15-18th centuries of state formations (Congo, Bakuba and others) and their early contacts with Europeans. The artistic subzone which includes Gabon and the adjacent regions is particularly noteworthy, since the overwhelming majority of the local peoples were ignorant in the past of any form of state. The art of the local peoples-the Fang, Bakota, Bakele, Bateke and Bapunu - furnishes material of remarkable aesthetic and scientific interest.

The artistic schools of the Congolese basin proper (Zaire and the adjacent regions) are united in five big groups. The centres of three of them are the artistic schools of the Bakongo, Bakuba and Baluba. Two others are contained by the tribes of the north-west (Ngbaka, Ngbandi, Boa etc) and of the South East (Mangbetu, Azande etc.).

The Special characteristics of the local styles are disclosed by analysis of the sculptures of the Bayaka, Bapende, Bena-Lulua, Tchokwe, Basonge, Warega etc...

The variety of subjects, the complex com­positions, the tendency towards the desacralisation and realistic treatment of the images, point to the fact that in this region the Bakuba, Baluba and Mangbetu advanced further than the rest in artistic development. Certain specimens of their sculpture and certain types of artefact show that their art is in transition from traditional art proper to that of the professional crafbmen.

East Africa. The social-economic structure, the mode of life led by the nomadic cattle - breeders and agricultural peoples of East Africa, stimulated, in particular, the development of music, dance, and the spoken word. Art is represented here mainly by the applied forms: wicker-work, weaving, pottery, bead embroidery, jewellery etc. Sculpture, already played a comparatively minor role among the Bari, Bongo and other peoples of the Upper Nile. Among the negroid peoples in South-West Ethiopia, sculp­ture is sometimes used for gravestones. The small clay figures used by the Galla are connected with burials and funeral rites. Primi­tive aspects and applied forms of sculpture are found among the Shilluk (Sudan), Elie (Somali) Barotse and Mambunda (Zambia), Mashona (Rhodesia), and the Wasaramo and Wanyamwesi (Tanzania). A unique position in East Africa, in terms of art is held by the Makonde and their kindred peoples the Mavia, the Makua etc. (Tanzania, Mozambique).

In summing up our analysis of the main schools of art in West Sudan, the Guinee coast, the Congo Basin and East Africa, we become convinced that the art of each ethnic group has certain stylistic features peculiar to itself alone; in other words, at the clan and tribal stage, each ethnos generates a specific artistic structure. At the same time, it becomes clear that in spite of the ethnic heterogeneity of the traditional artistic culture and the many different kinds of local art forms, there is a definite substratum covering the special regional characteristics.

Two aspects of sculpture are found every­where: these are masks and statues, whose functions reflect a basically common structure of world outlook. Constant elements appear equally in the artistic structure proper. For example, the following are common to the sculpture in general: a static quality, strict symmetry, proportions diminishing downwards, clear architectonics and a tendency to the geometrisation of form. Symmetry, geometrisation and clear architectonics are also typical of the masks: moreover, the special regional-characteristics are overlaid with the existence everywhere of three types of masks (facial, helmet and headpiece), and three forms (zoomorphic, zoo-anthropomorphic and an­thropomorphic).

The substratum indicated gives a general picture within the bounds of which the separate artistic centres operate. Each of them has its special stylistic constant. Its parameters are determined by the quality and quantity of deformation. As analysis shows, the quantity of deformation (the degree of abstraction) is dependent to a certain extent on the stage level and reflects the phase of development which the artistic tradition concerned has reached. The quality of deformation-preference for this or that means of stylisation-expresses the special local characteristics and performs an ethno-differentiating function.

The quantitative changes associated with the stage factor are recorded above all diachronically. Moreover, in the transition from one stylistic centre to the other, there also emerges a definite pattern in the relationship of the qualitative elements of the artistic structure. In this way, the quantitative deformation emerges as a function of time, but the qualitative as a function of ethnos, i.e. -in a certain sense-of space; correspondingly, the stylistic evolution of the whole system under examination unfolds in two dimensions, the temporal and the spatial, and has two aspects, the diachronic and the synchronic.

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