African art–whether traditional or contemporary in impulse–has and is affected by various societal forces. This chapter will examine the effects of religion on African art, considering traditional religions, Christianity, and Islam, as well as the impact that various kinds of social structures have on art. Art varies considerably when we discuss the size and complexity of social organization–what resources and restrictions influence the art of nomads who must constantly move? Are they likely to create large, heavy sculptures that need then to be lugged from place to place? Does a small-scale community have access to the same kinds of prestige materials as a kingdom that taxes its inhabitants?
The units within this chapter will consider a number of religions and social structures as case studies, touching on some of the themes previously discussed as well as new art forms.