“The artistic production of meridional Africa – South Africa, Namibia and Botswana – is not properly understood. Until the 1960’s, most of the objects collected in these areas were attributed to the Zulu tribe – the most important political force in the region. Today, the corpus of South African objects has grown dramatically, but unfortunately scholars and collectors are quite often unable to give a precise attribution. It is frequently not known exactly where they were found and the traditionally carved objects have now been replaced by mass-produced pieces. Moreover, extensive travel and the exchange of objects between tribes occurred before the arrival of colonials, making their provenance even more difficult.
Nevertheless, some common artistic characteristics do exist among the art produced in this part of Africa. Figures are scarce and were carved only by the northern Nguni and Veda people in the north-eastern corner of South Africa, and masks are even more rarely documented in this part of the world.
The majority of the people living in these areas are nomadic – they follow their herds of cattle – and so their artistic output is mainly limited to utilitarian objects such as clubs, vessels, neck-rests, pipes and snuff boxes.
There are a number of tribes living in meridional Africa – from the north to the south, they are the Venda, the Ndebele, the Sotho and the North and South Nguni in South Africa, the Herero and the Ovumbo in Namibia and teh Tswana in Botswana.
The Venda people live in northern Transvall and south-eastern Zimbabwe and are ruled by a king. Their carvings are reserved for the Royal Court and for women’s initiation ceremonies.
Venda court art consists mostly of stone monoliths adorned with concentric designs, and carved doors and drums used in rain-making ceremonies. Their initiation objects are usually wooden or clay figures, called Matano, which are brought out during ceremonies to illustrate a story. These figures are thought to represent either an ideal girl, a man, a renegade man or even an animal.”
Baquart, Jean-Baptiste. The Tribal Arts of Africa. New York: Thames and Hudson Inc. 1998. Print.