The west African communities of the ancient/traditional cultures existed well before the advent of the colonial era. In most communities, traditional religion strongly controls the art. Works are produced as ancestral figure, fetish object and as masks. West African art culture is generally on the pursuit of freedom and religious beliefs. The west African communities lies on the Savannah plains that are blessed with lots of rainfall and thick forest. This factor was responsible for the choice of materials in the production of the works . Therefore wood carving of ancestral figures is very common in West African traditional art setting.
Generally speaking, art in west Africa have some of the following sub headings as functions or purpose :
Religious: Art in West African culture is created as an instrument by which to make contact with supernatural forces. It helps the people to overcome the dangers of their environment. Often a shrine is built and gradually a collection of fetishes or objects supposed to have some magical power began to grow. Most of these objects are carved by the artist and they are sanctified and dedicated as symbols through which the supreme being communicates with men. Sculptural objects which include masks, helmet and statues were produced.
Social: Design and production of symbols or objects used in festivals, coronations, dances,drama etc.
Political: Many Kings in west Africa are surrounded by works of art from their paraphernalia like staff of office, crown, royal head of their seats, stools and palace and courtyards decorations.
Aesthetics: Art is put into a lot of decorative or beautification purposes in west Africa. This could be seen on buildings at village squares and other public and private places.
Utilitarian: Art feature prominently in household utensil. eg bowls, pots, trays, carved stools etc.Body ornamentation (body tattoos,beads,bangles,rings etc. Functional items like musical instrument, plaques, wall hangings draperies etc.
Therapeutic: Some art works are involved in the welfare of individuals and families after some supernatural power must have been invoked in to them. They then serve the following roles:
Preventive: They could be miniature sculpture used on the advice of a priest or diviner for the prevention of any form of personal misfortune sudden death, anticipated sickness, accident etc.
Curative: These are miniature sculptures used by the traditional priest or medicine man in sacrifice to attack the spiritual basis of certain ailment thereby affecting a physical cure.for example, fertility figures for barrenness, preventing miscarriage in pregnancy etc.
Protective: Such sculptures could represent ancestral spirits or personal ‘chi’or god. They are meant to give protection from spiritual attack and prevent any form of harm.