Africa Rocks | Mingei International Museum
Shoulder’s Cloth (Kente), Ghana, Asante, early 20th century, silk (weft-face plain weave, supplementary weft, hand-sewn). Gift of Barb Rich. Photo by Katie Gardner.
Image: Shoulder’s Cloth (Kente), Ghana, Asante, early 20th century, silk (weft-face plain weave, supplementary weft, hand-sewn). Gift of Barb Rich. Photo by Katie Gardner.

This selection of African art is inspired by the San Diego Zoo’s new Africa Rocks exhibit! Continue your journey through Africa by exploring their new habitats, which spotlight the amazing biodiversity found on the African continent.


This wooden sculpture represents a chiwara—a mythological hero that is part human, part antelope. It was likely part of a headdress. There are two antelope sculptures with straight horns. One of the sculptures is smaller than the other.

Chiwara Headdress

20th Century Mali

In Mali, a chiwara is a mythological hero that is part human, part antelope.

This wooden kifwebe, or mask, has a face that is boldly simplified with a high protruding forehead, close-set eyes under hooded eyelids, and is completely covered by a dense network of painted parallel grooves.


20th Century Democratic Republic of Congo

This mask’s colors, and costume all have symbolic meaning…

Kente cloth is the best known of all African textiles, identified by its dazzling, multicolored patterns of geometric shapes in bold designs. This cloth is woven in continuous narrow strips that are cut and pieced together to make large cloths. The base of this all-silk cloth (the stable warp to which the weft is added) is  purple, as is every other block of the upper portion. The warp disappears from view in the bottom portion, where the weft threads cover it entirely.

Shoulder's Cloth (Kente)

c. 1900-1932 Ghana

From the Ashanti people of Ghana, kente is a royal and sacred cloth and worn only in times of great importance.

This textile is an appliquéd and sewn cotton banner typical of the Fon people of Benin. The textile is longer horizontally than vertically. The background is black and there are two large pink and blue stylized peacocks. The two peacocks cover the majority of the textile and are facing each other. In the upper right and left corner is one small yellow creature, possible a cat. In the center of the textile, in between the two peacocks is a large green motif, similar in shape to an artichoke.


c. 1960 Benin

This appliquéd and sewn cotton banner is typical of the Fon people of Benin, whose textile tradition goes back some 300 years

Only seven inches tall, this figure comprised of glass beads, cotton, and wood depicts a bird attacking a snake with its beak. The body of the bird is beaded with blue, green, and cream beads in a checkered diamond pattern. The head of the bird uses green beads. The snake is white beads.

Protective Figure

20th century Nigeria

For the Yoruba, birds allude to creation and the mystical powers of women.

This stool was carved from a single block of wood. Its openwork base features caryatid figures (female figures, used as a pillar to support the entablature of a Greek or Greek-style building). The top of the stool is decorated with beads which indicates it was intended more for display at public events and ceremonial occasions rather than for everyday seating.

Chief’s Stool

20th Century Cameroon

Stools in Africa carry social meaning signifying clan or rank or individual identification.

This mask is very large. The wingspan on this carved wooden butterfly mask is five and a half feet. The design is a simple concentric inverted triangles which breaks up the horizontal plane.

Butterfly (Yehoti) Mask

20th Century Burkina Faso

Can you guess the wingspan of this carved wooden butterfly mask?

Depicted on this textile is a male figure seated on a king’s stool holding a large fan. There are also two large birds on either side of him which may represent members of the company. This flag also contains a large Union Jack and a graphic black and white border composed of alternating squares and triangles.

Asafo Flag (frankaa)

1900-1950 Ghana

Graphic folk imagery and appliquéd designs illustrate Akan proverbs in which messages to opponents are displayed, customs are remembered and oral traditions are preserved.

Join our Community!

Stay up to date on Museum happenings by subscribing to our newsletter.