Creating art, and sculpture in particular, has a long history across the continent of Africa. In the Bristol collections we have sculptural objects that are many thousands of years old, from ancient Egypt, through figurines that are known to have been made during the African Middle Ages, to modern carvings from countries in West Africa.

African artists usually based their designs on the human form when making sculpture, but continue to represent it in a wide range of styles based on their cultural traditions and personal approach. Different parts of the body are often exaggerated to emphasise certain qualities that important or significant in some way.

Figures are created for a wide variety of uses - for example in religious ceremonies to connect with the gods or ancestors or to give moral instruction to the young. Sculptures can also be created to encourage fertility, to protect against evil spirits, or as political statements on individuals or society.

Today a lot African sculpture is made as 'tourist art', or objects that are made to be sold to people outside of the particular society. Contemporary African artists continue to create sculpture based on the human form for sale in galleries and high-value global art markets.