The visual culture of West Africa, from sculpture, ceramics, textiles, metalwork and architecture to the dynamic performance arts (dance, music) that bring traditional mask art to life.

The Blacksmith

Black and white photograph of a blacksmith axe laying on the ground with cowrie shells as an offering in Sierra Leone.

“When iron is heated in a charcoal fire to white-hot temperatures, skilled African blacksmiths move the metal like clay. Using hammers as an extension of their hands, they can model any shape they desire upon their anvils. With astonishing technical prowess these artists have, for over 2,500 years, created the essential and the conceptual, the …

The Masons of Djenné

Annual plastering of the Great Mosque of Djenné in Mali. Photography of a master mason spreading plaster on the wall of the mosque while other masons climb the scaffolding in the background.

“When an Agama lizard sees you coming, it jumps onto a wall. It doesn’t fall because it has ‘special’ powers. Those powers are the same that we masons use. Those are secret.” ― Master Mason Konbaba Tennepo The Master Mason The master mason makes his way through the maze of twisting alleyways, staircases, rising spires, …

The Puppeteer

The heads of two West African puppets articulated at the mouth and adorned with cowrie shells, awaiting the puppeteer.

The West African puppeteer lurches, leans and sways, giving himself over to the demands of his carved creation. He is at once ajogi, a Yoruba dancer of the wooden image, and nyamakala, a Mandé force-handler, as he pulls on the ropes and rods of some of the oldest and richest of Africa’s surviving puppetry traditions. …

The Weaver

Close up of the hands of a Dyula weaver, threading the shuttle though the loom.

Somewhere in the Futa Tooro region of Senegal, a Tukolor weaver, or mabube, reenacts an ancient ritual. He gathers his loom parts — pulley, wheel, shuttle, beater that have been carved for him and him alone — bringing them back, each and every day, to a framework that does not uniquely belong to him. Although he …