African art is a terrific blend of visual imagery, spiritual beliefs and social purpose. The ancient African art mainly represented the religious beliefs and cultural ideas through the various artifacts, namely masks and figures. Apart from masks and figures that were used in religious ceremonies, these beliefs and ideas also found artistic expression in a number of utilitarian objects and tools of everyday life. The ancient art forms were extremely traditional in nature and they formed the major part of the African society. One of the earliest artforms of African culture were terracotta statuettes that were found in the Nok culture of Nigeria, around 500 B.C.
Ancient African art comprises of contributions from a variety of tribes all over Africa. These tribes created different art forms, unique and peculiar to the tribe. There is immense diversity in the African art culture and the artifacts, native southern arts and a variety of existent cultural art forms from the western tribes, have contributed to African art in a big way. Most of the art forms depicted the abundance of surrounding nature and abstract interpretations of animals and plant life. Some of them flaunted primitive designs and shapes. It is observed that the sculpture in wood is intricate and time defying. Most of the ancient sculptures were made of wood and other materials, such as terracotta, mud, beadwork, ivory, metal and stone. These sculptures mostly had humans as their main subjects.
A vast collection of ancient African art can be found in a number of museums all over the world. The art mainly consisted of artforms with human and animal subjects and depicted the positive and negative aspects of human behavior. The history of African art also proves the importance of religion and religious practices in the African culture and people.