Sample Research Paper on Formal Analysis of Art


Historically, African art has played a vital role in shaping the cultural beliefs and the historical development of the world. The notion that Africa is the origin of mankind can therefore not be challenged, as these histories have been protected and preserved for a long time. African arts combine form of beauty coupled with rich cultural importance that has been appreciated by other communities, visitors, and tourists for a long period of time (Cameron, 2008).  These dangling pieces of art represent and express vital beliefs of the African people and provide influential statements about the artists and people who created them.  The art form presents a universal view of the artistic diversity – taking note of all the cultural beliefs, attitudes, and behaviors of the African people in different formats of sculptures, ceramics, masks, beadwork, and metalwork, among other mediums.

Thesis statement

The piece of art for discussion is Mwanangana described as the figure of a chief of the Chokwe people of Angola, DRC, and Zambia (Miwon, 2004).  The origin of African royalty originates from sacred quarters that are represented through dancing, performances, and visual representations. The artwork paper aims to highlight roles played by traditional rulers in protecting the people through provisions leadership and also highlighting the powers that the chiefs have at their disposal (Quigley, 2005). The artwork is powerful as it is charged with great power, considered sacred and used in ceremonies conducted by chiefs. The foundation is on the principles of social and political organizations where Mwanangana governs the people and administers authority by providing hunting and cultivation areas to his people.

Formal Analysis

The Mwanangana or figure of a chief is a wood figure 14.75 inches tall and 5.5 inches wide. Distinguishable features of the art also include; made of wood, muscular body, large hands and feet, large protruding eyes, bent knees and attention to detailing finger and toe nails (The University of Iowa Museum of Art, 2015).

This figure is made by the Chokwe people from Southern Savannah to represent one of their chiefs. The figure is in very good condition due to everything is intact, no parts is chipped or missing. One noticeable detail on this figure is the big hands and feet, in Chokwe culture that represents powerful hands and feet. The figure is carved on wood during the first half of the 19th century. The figure is asymmetric because the right hand of the figure is a bit higher than the left hand. The figure can be divided into three parts – head, body, and feet (The University of Iowa Museum of Art, 2015).  The three parts of the figure all have different shapes. The head is round shaped because of the cipenya mutwe he is wearing. The body is almost cube shaped, the figure’s shoulders are flat and the arms are vertical to the shoulders. Lastly, the feet of this figure is pyramid shaped which gives the piece more value and make it bright.  The figure’s purpose is to protect the chief and his family and village against wanga, the evil forces activated by enemies through sorcery and the use of occult powers.

The artwork is a sculpture that was carved out of wood using subtractive method, not a lot of  material are used in sculpture apart from wood, the method of carving is efficient in producing the distinguishable features like the toe nails. The choice of wood as the material of the work signifies the hunting activities of the community.

The composition of the artwork is that the forms are asymmetrical to increase the sizes of the eye, hands with the right hand being bigger and stronger, parts thrust to different direction to signify the masculinity of the body (The University of Iowa Museum of Art, 2015).  The shapes that form the volume and space are geometric pyramids and irregular forms that are smoothened and organized adjacently to each other.  Horizontal and vertical smooth flowing lines are used to come up with the body shape and the domelike head, these lines direct the reading of the art as it distinguishes the various body parts with great emphasis.

Dark light has been used to show demarcations of the body parts and to emphasize on the object, grey coupled with black color used to represent the African people. The forms are arranged to provide for an African shade and belonging. The surface of the sculpture is smoothened, polished and shiny to emphasize on the African color. The factors above show a sense of movement, the large feet in particular is meant to provide evidence of long distance walking. The context of the object is that of hunting and ceremony celebrations presided by the chief and does not show any form of colonial encounter.


The artwork is a sculpture of a chief also known as Mwanangana that induce the reminiscences of founding rulers and cultural bearers of the Chokwe community. It symbolizes leadership that originated from trading; the partners of trade were from DRC and Angola (The University of Iowa Museum of Art, 2015). It is a figure that was carved to represent village chief and remind them of the power that they possess. It also used to show respect to their ancestors as they act as mediators between the spirits, ancestors, and the people.

The sculpture was made by Chibinda Ilunga – a legend hunter from the kingdom of Luba who also introduced new procedures of governance to the people; the figure was to honor the important union of cultures. This sculpture was made in Angola by the Chokwe community to celebrate and represent their chiefs as custodians of culture (Yoffee, 2005).

As indicated it was made to represent the power of the chiefs and to show the power that they possessed. In addition, it was meant to provide a link between the people and the ancestors. It was used to signify power and honor people with outstanding achievements in the community.

It means a lot to the Chokwe people as it shows the rich culture that they have together with the power that their chief exercises to the subjects. It tells us a lot about the culture of the people and the origin of power and authority for the chiefs.

Due to trade, rulers were expected to have great power and vigor so as to protect the community; this was also the case with the Chokwe community. Looking at the art it is evident that the hands of the chief are very large, the hands are hugely spread, the presence of muscular shoulders with a violent posture. This symbolizes how strong the rulers are as the traits insinuate power in play. To represent people effectively the ruler must appear stronger than the rest especially in situation where different communities trade together. It is believed that even in cases of war the ruler in this case the chief must provide leadership and lead the others. This is well represented and sculptured on the artwork so that anyone intending to become chief must emulate and show the characteristics presented on the artwork.

Rulers are expected to be of sound mind in addition to being mentally and physically fit to execute duties effectively. The artwork presents a chief with a big fore head representing a large brain, large eyes that support keen eyesight. This forehead is also crowned to insinuate protection offered to the subjects. As much as chiefs could lead they were expected to provide a lot of wisdom to make judgments on conflicts and issues in the society. The bulging domelike fore head represents wisdom exhibited by the chief and the crown represents the protection and respect given for such wisdom offered to the community. Respect for authority is a virtue that must be cultivated to ensure effective and effective administrations; decisions by the rulers are respected and followed strictly. The keen eyesight of the keen eyesight of the chief also affirms the attentiveness, keenness, and physical agility of the chief to execute duties and to protect the entire Chokwe community from aversion and conflicts that resulted from trading together with other communities.

Even as chiefs ruled there was an extreme belief in medicine and sorcery, this was taken into account. The roles that are played by medicine men and sorcerers are big as the king was also expected to get endorsement from famous medicine people and sorcerers. This had the implication of making the king feared by the subjects as this leadership was considered an endorsement by the ancestors. This is well represented on the sculpture by the use of horns of a tiny antelope, which also signifies the danger in ruling that is compared to hunting and that this requires supernatural powers to protect and do effectively (The University of Iowa Museum of Art, 2015).

In communities like Chokwe after trading and hunting sprees, the people could sit down in a ceremony to celebrate on the achievements made so far. This is presented on the artwork where the chief is made to a hold a thump piano an instrument that was used in praise songs and recitations of oral histories and achievements. The instrument was also used in ceremonies and events to recognize some notable people in the society and to encourage them to continue their good deeds. This instrument also represents the chief to be leader, role model, repository, and custodian of historical culture of the community (The University of Iowa Museum of Art, 2015).


Mwanangana is a wood carved sculpture of an African chief from the Chokwe Community, Angola. It was made to signify that powers possessed by the traditional chiefs who also acted as the custodians of the culture and mediators between the ancestors and the people. The artwork was made with precision taking into account the design elements of any piece of art. The artwork represents the rich African cultural beliefs.


Cameron, C. (2008). Coming in from the cold public art history: The Practice of public art.

London/New York: Routledge.

Miwon, K. (2004). One place after another, site-specific art and locational identity. Cambridge,

MA/London: MIT Press.

Quigley, D. (ed.). (2005). The Character of Kingship. Oxford: Berg.

The University of Iowa Museum of Art (n.d.). Mwanangana (Figure of Chief). Retrieved on October 31, 2015.

Yoffee, N. (2005). Myths of the Archaic State. Evolution of the Earliest Cities, States, and

            Civilizations. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.