How to Compare African Art to Native American Art

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How to Compare African Art to Native American Art
Elaborate costumes such as this are used for specific performances. (native American powwow image by windzepher from

Despite African and Native American cultures being separated by geographical, linguistic and religious differences, their artwork share a common thread. They both create to communicate to the physical and spiritual world around them


African and Native American art can be found in everyday items such as baskets, pottery and textiles. The Museum of African Art points out that these daily objects were not made for the purpose of being viewed as art pieces but were created for social, religious or utilitarian purposes. What may appear as a doll to an outsider a Hopi Indian would call a kachina, a sacred figure which personifies supernatural spirits. The Asante people of Ghana call their equally sacred wooden figures dedicated to fertility an akua ba.

Performance Art

Performance plays a crucial role not only for art but custom and livelihood as well. A performance's meaning may be a call for rain, good hunting or a coming-of-age rite, for example. The artist takes on the persona of an ancestor returning from the spiritual world or as a spirit of nature. Usually one or more persons dons an elaborate mask and costume to perform, such as in the masquerades of Africa or the transformation rites of the Kwakiutl people.


According to Native American Artists and "Gardner's Art through the Ages," the contributing factor for African art and Native American art is the spiritual aspects that make up their daily life. Both arts are dedicated to honouring the many sacred gods and ancestors. Mystical ceremonies and rituals have little purpose without the object that gives it meaning, whether that be a mask, pottery or sculpture. Nearly everything they create has a purpose toward gaining favour and connecting with the spiritual world.

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