Southern Africa's oldest known clay figures date from 400 to 600 AD and have cylindrical heads with a mixture of human and animal features.The study of African art until recently focused on the traditional art of certain well-known groups on the continent, with a particular emphasis on traditional sculpture, masks and other visual culture from non-Islamic West Africa, Central Africa, and Southern Africa with a particular emphasis on the 19th and 20th centuries.Recently, however, there has been a movement among African art historians and other scholars to include the visual culture of other regions and time periods.The notion is that by including all African cultures and their visual culture over time in African art, there will be a greater understanding of the continent's visual aesthetics across time.The Mande-speaking peoples of the same region make pieces from wood with broad, flat surfaces and arms and legs shaped like cylinders.In Central Africa, however, the main distinguishing characteristics include heart-shaped faces that are curved inward and display patterns of circles and dots.Mosaics made of butterfly wings or colored sand are popular in west Africa.
The Nubian Kingdom of Kush in modern Sudan was in close and often hostile contact with Egypt, and produced monumental sculpture mostly derivative of styles that did not lead to the north.
East Africans are known for Tinga Tinga paintings and Makonde sculptures.
There is also tradition of producing textile art, .
There is a vast variety of styles, often varying within the same context of origin depending on the use of the object, but wide regional trends are apparent; sculpture is most common among "groups of settled cultivators in the areas drained by the Niger and Congo rivers" in West Africa.
Since the late 19th century there has been an increasing amount of African art in Western collections, the finest pieces of which are now prominently displayed.
Sculptures can be wooden, ceramic or carved out of stone like the famous Shona sculptures, and decorated or sculpted pottery comes from many regions.