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African Art

Traditional and contemporary works of art from Africa can be found in the CU Art Museum’s permanent collection. Various cultural groups are represented, with a focus on West Africa and Southern Africa. Containing exclusively three-dimensional works, like male and female ci-wara headdresses made by the Bamana peoples of Mali (seen at lower right), the collection also includes several examples of African musical instruments and carved wooden doors.

In most historic African cultures, art was not created simply for art’s sake, but as part of a larger ceremonial whole. Even in otherwise utilitarian objects, religious beliefs and cultural ideals find artistic expression. The works particularly created for a ritual context, however, never functioned alone or as static pieces. They were intended to be seen in motion; worn, handled, or carried; and usually accompanied by music and dancing.

We encourage you to discover Africa’s rich cultural diversity as you explore our collection, both online and in person.

[+]Unidentified Artist, Mende peoples (Sierra Leon, West Africa)
Sowei or Sowo (Female Helmet Mask)
bombax wood
15 1/2 x 7 1/2 x 10 inches

Purchase with The Carnegie Fund, CU Art Museum, University of Colorado at Boulder
Photo: Aaron Hoffman
(c) CU Art Museum

[+]Unidentified Artist, Bamana peoples, (Mali, West Africa)
Chi-wara or Ci-wara (Male Antelope Headdress)
40 x 2 3/4 x 14 inches

Purchase with the Carnegie Fund, CU Art Museum, University of Colorado at Boulder
Photo: Nick Havholm
(c) CU Art Museum