Culture is a string of symbols, narratives, discourses, artifacts and objects that are rather ambitious to totally unravel. African culture is one that is as diverse as the ethnic groups that exist and thrive within it. It is a situation of constantly fluctuating interaction between various narratives and practices, which is why it is interesting and engaging to encounter various aspects of the African culture in different art pieces.

Culture influences everything we do as humans and as such is only expected to find its place in our art works – be it in the form of languages, ancient communication systems in the form of symbols, or daily living and religious beliefs and practices. An artist’s personal experiences and interaction with culture will always be his or her biggest influence. When viewing the work of any artist, one will see what things interested them, for example, if they do figurative work, how are the subjects in the art works dressed? How is the environment captured? What objects do they show?

Culture is a fundamental concept that inevitably affects almost every aspect of life, including and especially art. With this in mind, we will highlight approaches of some artists who have captured or explored significant symbols of African culture specific to certain ethnic groups and how they are interpreted in their works.

Kelechi Charles Nwaweri

Kelechi is a mixed media artist, working primarily in pencils, collage and acrylic.

Kelechi Charles Nwanneri, ‘Madonna and Child’, Mixed media on canvas, 106cm x 132cm

In this piece, ‘Madonna and Child’ he touches on a wide range of socio-cultural issues mostly related to African history. With this work, he also highlights on certain elements like dressing and appearances synonymous with certain cultures in East Africa.

Ini Brown

A versatile and prolific water colour practicing artist, he portrays people in rural and riverine environment capturing canoes and boats along the bank of a river, as well as their economic lives that is peculiar to people in the South Western Nigeria area as can be seen in some of his works like ‘Labour Day’ and ‘By the Banana Boats’

Ini Brown, ‘Labour Days’, Watercolour on paper, 56cm x 77cm

Eseosa Ikponmwosa

Ikponwosa is a freelance photographer who focuses on elements that are easily overlooked. In his work ‘I Speak to God in Public’ he captures religious element of a woman in a religious garb, probably in search of answers to her most troubling worries.

Eseosa Ikponmwosa, ‘I Speak to God in Public’, Photography, 70cm x 92cm

Although African art has existed in many forms and styles and with little influence from the outside world, art has never been without meaning in Africa. Culture helps with both with creativity and artists across the rest of the world as these works give insights and new perceptions to viewers outside the continent. As a true soul of a nation, art unites people in its interpretations by playing an intuitive role in understanding culture such that they become almost inseparable phenomenons.