The Beauty of African Art

The beauty of African art


African art has existed for many centuries but it is only in the 20th-century artists that art lovers are beginning to appreciate the beauty of African art. People now see the free interpretations of nature, the raw and original talent that shines through African art and as such it is slowly out-footing some western art. But why now? Why is African art on the rise?

The answer is simple: original diversity.

Unlike Western art, African art is very diverse, each form of art is original in its own right and can be traced back to specific and unique origins. The many different materials used in the various forms of art add on to the beauty of African art. There is jewelry made from materials such as tiger’s eye stone, coconut shells, beads, sisal, and wood. Sculptures can be found in wood, ceramic or in stone. There are also decorated pottery and various forms of textiles from different tribes and backgrounds.


African sculpture takes the lead

One of the unique things about African artists is that they have a deep adoration for 3D art over 2D work that is mostly found in western art. This is why Sculpture is predominant in African art. Even some of the paintings and drawings by African artist are produced to be experienced 3-dimensionally.

Sculpturing originated from different tribes with the Shona being the most popular producers of stone carved sculptures.

Each sculpture usually tells a story, represents certain values, documents events or honors certain African heroes and personalities. Recent evolution has given rise to sculpturing as a form of expression, this is why there are now many centers that provide a sanctuary for artists and teach people the art of sculpturing.


Traditional art

Traditional African art is probably the most common and most studied form of African art. This is the type of African art that you are most likely to find in museums and exhibitions. From wooden masks to status and decorations, a beautiful story can be told and based down to generations to come. Wooden masks and statues often have a fascinating history and traditional beliefs.

Wooden masks originated from western Africa, they are the most common in African and Western museums. They often represent human figures, personalities, and animals. The history behind wooden masks dates back many centuries, they were often used in ceremonies and initiations like war preparation, harvestings, and marriage.

Some of the masks have very traditional beliefs. For example, there were some masks that were worn by specific dancers and leaders during a ceremony so they could enter a trance and communicate with the ancestors.


Visual abstraction

African artists tend to represent objects and ideas in their art, the oldest African artwork is mostly visual stories that have been preserved and passed on to other generations. When it comes to visual abstracts, Egyptian artwork takes the forefront. Visual abstraction has been adopted by today’s young generation that turned it into graffiti wall paintings. Some of the wall paintings found in the high-density suburbs of South Africa have become major attraction sights for westerners and major celebrities worldwide.


Performance art

The love for 3-dimensional art gave birth to performance art. Instead of continuous static art, African artists developed into dynamic performers, representing different traditions and cultures live on stage and in theaters. African performance arts are usually a reincarnation of some of the traditional dances and drama. There are many different artists from various countries that perform some of the most treasured African dances like the rain dance and other ceremonial adaptations.

The most intriguing thing about performance arts is the costumes that the artists wear. Depending on the performance, most artist will always look to bring back the costumes that relate to the traditional performance in question.

In addition to dancing and theater, performance art will often include traditional music and unique musical instruments.


In Closing

The beauty of African art is that it is unique. No one else can represent African art better than the Africans themselves and that is why many tourists travel from the furthest parts of the world just to experience the true African culture.

Featured Artist: Nonthando Xaba, the Maid from Mafikeng

Imagine, being 16 years old and being forced to quit school and work as a maid in order to feed your younger brothers and survive. On top of that, you are overwhelmed with grief after having just lost your mother to an illness. For most of us, this is more likely a work of fiction that wouldn’t be out of place as a movie script. But for Nonthando Xaba, this is her reality.


Who is Nonthando Xaba?

Nonthando Xaba is a 29 year old extremely talented artist who was working as a domestic worker before being discovered. She hails from a small village in Mafikeng and is currently being sponsored to further develop her talents in the Chris Paulse School of Art in Durban North.

Nonthando has a special gift with pencil drawings. It’s not often that you come across a prodigious talent with no formal art training.


Forced into becoming a domestic worker as a teen


Nonthando grew up in Mafikeng. She is the eldest with 2 younger brothers. She didn’t know her father and was raised by her mother. Her mother sadly passed away when Nonthando was just 16 years old from an unknown illness.

Her mother supported the family by working as a domestic worker for 2 families in Westville. When her mother passed away, Nonthando was forced to leave school in order to take care of her younger brothers by carrying following in her mothers footsteps and working as a maid.

She had no choice. Either carry on with her schooling for a little while longer until the money ran out, or find work to put food on the table.

Nonthando ended up working for the same families that had employed her mother as a cleaning lady. She speaks of them with a deep respect as they were kind people who took it upon themselves to pay for her brothers schooling and basic needs. Unfortunately, she never returned to finish her education.

In 2015, Nonthando started working for a residential cleaning agency. She had accepted that this is what she would most likely end up doing for the rest of her life, yet deep down she always had a burning desire to draw.

Such was her love for drawing, Nonthando would grab any opportunity to express her talents. She says she would draw almost every night in her home and even during her breaks at her cleaning jobs.


Nonthando discovered her love for art and her talent for it in school. She fondly remembers art classes when she was still in primary school. But because she was from a poor family, she never had paint brushes and utensils to draw at home, so she was always excited to go to school as it was the only place where she could.


A pencil in one hand and a sandwich in the other


It was late 2015 when I discovered Nonthando.

I was looking for a maid service as my domestic worker had recently left us. And as it turned out, the cleaning company sent Nonthando out to clean my home.

When she arrived, the one thing that stood out to me was her confidence and enthusiasm. She had this contagious energy about her.

It was around 1:30 the afternoon.

Nonthando had just finished cleaning the kitchen and was having her lunch.

I went to ask her if she wanted a cup of coffee. And I was blown away by what I saw.

She had a pencil in her hand, a sandwich in the other and a piece of paper in her lap. On the paper was a pencil drawing of a bird sitting on a reed alongside a pond. The level of detail and quality left me speechless. And I found myself just standing there watching her draw.

I was standing behind her, watching over her shoulder so she had no idea that I was even there. After what must’ve been 5 minutes, she turned around and saw me.

I immediately asked her where she learned how to draw. because I believed that she must’ve had some formal training in order to draw like that. She told me her story and I was simply amazed.

We ended up chatting for the rest of the day. I didn’t care about having my house cleaned.

I was so moved by her story.


Nonthando’s big break


I then contacted my colleague Claire, and told her about Nonthando. Claire agreed that we needed to do something.

We ended up getting a full sponsorship for Nonthando at the Chris Paulse School of Art so that she could finally realise her passion and further develop her natural ability.


Where is she now?


Nonthando still works for the cleaning company but now is able to dedicate a lot more of her time to developing her craft.

You can currently view her artwork at the Chris Paulse School of Art.

If you would like to get in touch with Nonthando, please contact us at and we will be sure to forward you her details.

Talented artists like Nonthando need our support. And who knows, maybe one day her work will be featured in bigger galleries and can be appreciated by a worldwide audience.

Featured Artist: Sam Muzumbi

The beauty of Africa is literally everywhere. And in some ways it’s tragic because when we start to look beneath all this beauty, we start uncovering a common African theme of struggle, hardship and poverty that nobody should be subjected to.

Today we feature that vibrant South African creativity, and it’s not found on the serene beaches or the awe-inspiring Highveld. No, this beauty is right under our noses, in the streets of Melville. And this artists name is Sam Muzumbi.

Original image taken from the Northcliff Melville Times


Sam is a street vendor. Originally from Zimbabwe, Sam left his home country in order to make a better life for himself.

But as is often the case in Africa, Sam has been made to survive on the streets selling different crafts in order to make a living. You can find Sam on the corner of 7th Street Melville, Johannesburg.

We’ve decided to feature Sam on our website because of his ingenuity and craftsmanship. You see, Sam upcycles tyres and converts them into shoes.

The shoes are handmade from leather. And the tyre is used for the soles. The result, a comfortable feel and solid grip. It usually takes Sam a full day to make one pair of these shoes, and it’s noticeable that extreme care and attention to detail goes into each and every pair.

Sam has been selling these shoes for 9 years now after learning the skill from his brother.

From focusing entirely on his shoe craft, Sam has since expanded his offerings to include, hats, bags and paintings. Looking at his other wares, you can see that Sam has an artistic flair and is truly gifted.

One can’t help but wonder what could have been for Sam if he had the same opportunities that most of us take for granted.

It’s so sad because Sam has slowly reduced the number of paintings he produces because people simply aren’t buying enough. And as a street vendor we is in need of these sales just to survive, his painting has to take a backseat while we focuses on more profitable crafts.

But throughout all the hardships of being on the street, Sam maintains his positive outlook on life and reiterates that he loves what he does.

As Africans, it’s our responsibility to get out of our homes and support these true artists. Not only because they deserve our support, but because these naturally gifted craftsmen are one of the many hidden gems of Africa. And there work leaves an imprint in our African souls.