Africa is a continent of immense diversity, encompassing hundreds of ethnic groups, belief systems, and ways of life. People live in large cities where skyscrapers line busy streets, in towns where satellite television coexists with social structures that have shaped lives for centuries, and in small villages or nomadic groups. Within the continent, hundreds of different languages are spoken, often several by a single person, and thousands of different types of traditional, hand-crafted objects are made, each with its own purpose. The objects, like the ones in the UIMA School Programs Collections, play crucial roles in the lives of African people. They were used to heal sickness, to honor leaders and heroes, to preserve histories, assert power, bring prosperity, and to ease the many difficulties all people face over the course of a lifetime. Their visual power contributes to their effectiveness, making art an essential element of life.

The African art embodies ideals and beliefs expressed in visual form by artists whose work emerges out of long standing traditions. Some contain nature spirits, deities, and ancestors, honoring these beings and bringing them into the lives of humans to provide inspiration and assistance. Others are representations of power, depictions of gods and spirits, documents of historical events, or simply beautiful objects. All resonate with religious faith, social aspirations, political might, and creative energy.