SOAS University of London

Department of the History of Art and Archaeology, School of Arts

Painting in Africa

Module Code:
Year of study:
Year 2 or Year 3
Taught in:
Term 1

Objectives and learning outcomes of the module

At the end of the course, students will:

  • Identify and date diverse forms of two-dimensional representation produced on the African continent.
  • Familiarize themselves with the materials, techniques and design features of these art forms.
  • Place these art forms within their particular historical, social, cultural, and economic contexts.
  • Apply their knowledge of critical approaches to the study of art history to these African images.
  • Evaluate the appropriateness of these approaches for the analysis of these images.
  • Consider and interpret the impact of multi-cultural encounters between African and non-African imagery and ideas, and analyse their results.

Scope and syllabus

Africa has some of the oldest painting traditions in the world, from a rich rock art tradition dating back thousands of years and scattered across the continent to well-known  ancient Egyptian wall paintings to less well-known imagery produced in countries like Libya and Tunisia, Sudan and Ethiopia during prehistoric, ancient and medieval times, to the modern and contemporary forms of two-dimensional expression developed within the political boundaries of contemporary  nation states.
This course will enable students to review and assess this varied imagery against the rich oral and performative traditions found in the continent, and to situate “painting” within wider notions of  “two-dimensional representation”, within the local metaphorical and narrative traditions, and from  a “world art” perspective. Students will be encouraged to look at a range of possible approaches to the analysis of these images – stylistic, iconographic/iconological, semiotic, socio-cultural, philosophical, and begin to learn to evaluate them.  

Method of assessment

Exam worth 70% of final mark, first assignment worth 15% of the final mark and second assignment worth 15% of the final mark

Suggested reading

  • Tom Phillips  [ed], 1995: Africa: the Art of  a Continent
  • Garlake P, 2002: Early Art and Architecture of Africa
  • Kasfir, Sidney, Contemporary Africa Art, 1999
  • Heldman, M., African Zion
  • Gawdat Gabra and Marianne Eaton-Krauss, The Treasures of Coptic Art in the Coptic Museum and Churches of Old Cairo, The American University on Cairo Press
  • Elliot D [ed], 1990, Art from South Africa, Oxford Museum of Modern


Important notice regarding changes to programmes and modules