The arts practiced by the indigenous Africans bear certain distinct traits or features that make them different from the arts practiced by other cultures like the Western culture. Though some critics say that indigenous African arts is primitive, old fashioned and ritualistic, the arts done are far from those criticisms and they are false. Those allegations are as a result of the failure of the critics in analyzing their unique characteristics. The major characteristics are discussed below.• FunctionalIndigenous African arts are functional. They are used in performing various roles in the everyday activities of the indigenous Africans. They are not created just ‘art for art sake’, rather they are used in performing a specific or variety of functions such as utilitarian, medicinal, identification, spiritual or religious purpose. For example, the sculpted ancestral figures were used for religious purpose in ceremonies linked with the veneration of the ancestors. Pots, containers and other receptacles were used for storage purposes and in performing various house chores.
• SymbolicAll the arts produced in indigenous Africa have meanings beyond what the eyes see. The various aspects of the work of art such as shape, colour, and form have symbolic and philosophical meanings. They are not ordinary, but rather have spiritual connotations. For instance, a mask painted in warm or hot colours carries the symbolic meaning that the deity or ancestor the mask represents may be wicked or vindictive. The symbolic meanings connected with the various arts are understood by the indigenous Africans.• Related to Everyday LifeThe arts practiced by the indigenous Africans go hand in hand with their daily activities. One cannot separate a single activity from an art form. They form an integral force of everyday life activities. They are used in performing household chores, religious service, occupational duties, festivals etc.• The Arts are common to all Members of the CommunityThe arts produced by the indigenous Africans are not owned by just a member of the society, but belongs to all the members in the society. The concepts, beliefs and forms behind the artistic productions are understood and shared by all. It is not the sole property of an individual, but the entire society.• Educational PurposesThe arts are used in giving moral instructions concerning the various factions of life such as community living, health, law, etc. During initiation ceremonies, the arts are used as teaching aids in the training of the initiates.
• Means of RecordingWorks of art are used to record events that happened in the past and about their culture. Though the arts don’t have mouths to talk, they can teach the viewer things about the past. They are like history books that give us first hand information about our cultural heritage and our way of life. They are used in the recording and commemoration of past events.Indigenous African arts were and are still beneficial to addressing the societal needs of the people. They must be accorded recognition as part of the historic and ancient creations that have value for modern societies. These unique attributes of them makes them distinct from the purely decorative arts of Western Art.