Africa is a continent where kingdoms and empires have flourished over millennia, each contributing to a fascinating antiquity and a vigorous history that extends to a spirited and creative present. Thousands of years of indigenous heritage mixed with mass migrations of people across the continent have brought about tremendous diversification and the fusing of diverse beliefs and practices. Interaction with foreign traders and travelers has engaged Africans in a dynamic dialogue across cultural and geographic borders. This dialogue included the exchange of spiritual and cultural beliefs and practices—many of which are evident in Africa’s arts and material culture.
Over centuries these movements were shaped by local and foreign interests, advancements in seafaring, religious conversions, changes in the environment, and technological advancements. The existence of, access to, and control of Africa’s rich resources drove contact, and extracting these resources was a key factor in the transatlantic slave trade of the fifteenth to nineteenth centuries, followed by colonization beginning in the late nineteenth century. Despite the various positive or devastating results of foreign contact, Africans have selectively adopted, responded to, or resisted its influence, some of which is visually interpreted by African artists. Museums are also reintroducing ancient Egypt into African galleries, recognizing it is very much a part of the continent.
Africa’s contribution to world history and culture is significant. Its influences can be found in visual cultures globally, today as it was in antiquity. We invite you to experience a more dynamic, connected Africa, one that we should all know!
Caroline M. Rocheleau
Curator of Ancient Collections
Amanda M. Maples
Curator of Global African Arts