African and Oceanic tribal art

Bembe, ‘Bimbi’ Figure, Congo, c. 1890-1900

Indigenous art as inspiration

For many years, the artworks of indigenous and isolated tribes was derided as so-called primitive art. These days however, it is beyond question that such art embodies a powerful means of expression with independent signification. Even when such works are removed from their original context as religious cult and ritual objects, they can stand shoulder to shoulder with Western European works of art.

Alongside the beauty and craftsmanship of indigenous art, its enormous influence on Modern art is oftentimes forgotten. Tribal art from Africa and the oceanic region left its mark on such prominent artists as Picasso, Gaugin and Matisse, who drew inspiration from the shapes and effects of tribal art. Doubtlessly, African and oceanic tribal art served as a major source of innovation for the avant-garde, expressionist and surrealist movements. Through the formal aesthetic view of European artists, African and oceanic tribal items became coveted works of art.

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Tribal art as collectors‘ items

Mossi, 4 Fertility Dolls, Burkina Faso, c. 1940

Fascinating objects of indigenous cultures

Tribal art, also known as indigenous art or primitivism, denotes the art of non-European indigenous peoples. This applies mainly to African and oceanic objects, and to a smaller degree includes pre-Columbian and Native American art. In these spheres, we can find a broad spectrum of utensils, weapons, ritual objects, jewelry and religious masks and fetishes. Alongside their artistic qualities, these items also served entirely practical uses and were deeply anchored into the everyday lives of their creators.

With a cubist-minimalist, yet also highly expressive look-and-feel, tribal art has enjoyed an ever increasing popularity for many years. Compared to modern art, tribal art also remains relatively affordable. The value of an item is determined mainly by its artistic merit and traceable origin. Time and again, such items have attained record prices at auctions, with some top-quality items even breaking million barrier.

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Tribal art in the shop of Auctionata

Ibo Figure Group for Ceremonies, Nigeria, 1st Third 20th C.

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Yippae Dance/Initiation Costume, Asmat, Irian Jaya, 20th C

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Kulango ‘Bedu’ Mask of Wood, Ivory Coast, 1st Third 20th C.

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Art from Africa and Oceania

Yoruba, Royal Court Maternity Figure, Wood, Nigeria, c. 1920

African tribal art

The term African tribal art refers to religiously charged ritual objects or extraordinary utensils from sub-Saharan Africa. Therefore, tribal art from Africa embodies the artistic output of many different ethnicities, meaning that its range is incredibly broad. What connects them however, is that such African art is intended to forge a strong bond to the gods and ancestors. Masks, figures and sculptures are intended to ward off evil powers and sickness, while simultaneously symbolizing fertility. Such objects are usually fashioned from wood or stone due to the rural structures and climatic conditions of their environment.

A peculiarity of African art is that there is a strict separation between art and craftsmanship. African tribal art primarily serves a social, religious or ritual purpose. Although high levels of artistry and aesthetic beauty were important factors in such items, this was not an end in itself. Instead, such qualities served to improve their actual function in the running of everyday tribal affairs. Without a doubt, sub-Saharan African tribal art boasts an inimitable aesthetic. Every item embodies a powerful expressive force that radiates the magic of Africa.

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Massim, Canoe Splash Board ‘Lagim’, Papua New Guinea, c. 1960s

Oceanic tribal art

The term oceanic tribal art refers to the artistic utensils and ritual objects of the Melanesians, Polynesians, Maori, Micronesians, Easter Islanders or Australian aborigines. Although art developed differently in the various oceanic regions, there are a number of shared characteristics: the close connection to religion, death cult, ancestral reverence and the significance of masks. The most common artworks consist of wood carvings, paintings and weavings in various styles. Masks in particular play an important role in religious ceremonies and social rituals and are closely tied to oceanic culture.

The most important branches of oceanic tribal art are Micronesia, Polynesian and Melanesian art. The sphere of Micronesian tribal art consists mainly out of richly decorated objects for everyday use such as expressive sculptures and weavings. Melanesian art from New Guinea and the surrounding islands is characterized by decorative architecture, sculptures and paintings dedicated to the themes of the ancestral cult, fertility and hunting. In contrast, Polynesian art is famous for its moai statues on the Easter Islands, as well as the hermaphroditic Uli-dignitaries from New Ireland in the Bismarck Archipelago.

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Highlights of Tribal art at Auctionata

Mumuye, Large Exceptional ‘Lagalagana’ Figure, Nigeria, c. 1920

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Starting price € 6,000.00
Sold for (incl. buyer’s premium) € 8,047.00

Important ‘Uli’ Figure, Collection of M. de Vlaminck, c. 1890

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Starting price € 40,000.00
Sold for (incl. buyer’s premium) € 86,660.00

Senufo, Seated Female Figure, West Africa, early 20th C.

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Starting price € 750.00
Sold for (incl. buyer’s premium) € 6,190.00