Western and Central Sudan, 1900 A.D.–present

  • Mask: Hawk (Duho)
  • Figure: Female (Nyeleni)
  • Janus Helmet Mask (Wanyugo)
  • Ring with Equestrian Figure
  • Mask (Sim)
  • Mask: Female Figure (Karan-wemba)
  • Untitled [Seated Woman with Chevron Print Dress]
  • Untitled, #313 [Woman Seated on Chair]
  • Wrapper (Seru Njaago)


1900 A.D.

1925 A.D.

European museums, missionary groups, and colonial research institutions collect African art, ca. 1850–ca. 1950
Europe colonizes western and central Sudan, 1884–ca. 1960
African artists are exposed to Western artistic practices and patronage during the colonial period, ca. 1900–ca. 1960

1925 A.D.

1950 A.D.

European museums, missionary groups, and colonial research institutions collect African art, ca. 1850–ca. 1950
Europe colonizes western and central Sudan, 1884–ca. 1960
African artists are exposed to Western artistic practices and patronage during the colonial period, ca. 1900–ca. 1960
Research on the Dogon peoples by the French Mission Dakar-Djibouti, 1931–40s

1950 A.D.

1975 A.D.

European museums, missionary groups, and colonial research institutions collect African art, ca. 1850–ca. 1950
Europe colonizes western and central Sudan, 1884–ca. 1960
African artists are exposed to Western artistic practices and patronage during the colonial period, ca. 1900–ca. 1960
Postindependence period; Senegal establishes national university and art schools, ca. 1960–present
Growth of Malian and Senegalese film, ca. 1960–present

1975 A.D.

2000 A.D.

Postindependence period; Senegal establishes national university and art schools, ca. 1960–present
Growth of Malian and Senegalese film, ca. 1960–present
Contemporary artists are increasingly active in international art community, ca. 1980–present


With the advent of colonialism, African peoples become subjects of European states. While colonial doctrines differ among the European powers, particularly on the question of direct versus indirect rule, all Africans are affected by the imposition of new legal, religious, and economic codes. The development of anthropology as a scientific discipline coincides with Europe’s closer association with African peoples, resulting in a greater understanding and appreciation of African societies, belief systems, and artistic practices. The ethnographic work of Marcel Griaule, among others, inspires Western interest in artworks from Mali created by Dogon and Bamana artists, and later the terracotta sculptures of the ancient Middle Niger Delta. African intellectuals such as Léopold Sédar Senghor grapple to resolve the frequently conflicting worldviews of Africa and the West, developing ideologies that attempt to engage European ideas while preserving African sensibilities. While these strategies are consciously employed at such state institutions as the École Nationale des Beaux Arts du Sénégal, they are also evoked by artists working at the popular and commercial level, including urban photographers such as Seydou Keïta. The establishment of state boundaries, political and economic infrastructures, and national museum and university systems plays an important role in developing and shaping national identities that ultimately call for, and achieve, independence from colonial rule. During the postcolonial era, artists and artistic movements are attuned to local, national, and international concerns, from the urban revitalization of Sét-Sétal to the global outlook of the DAK’ART festival and Laboratoire AGIT-Art.

Key Events

  • 1900

    A French circus presents the Lumière brothers’ slapstick film L’arroseur arrosé in Dakar, Senegal.

  • early 1900s

    Originally introduced as souvenirs from North Africa by Senegalese Muslims returning from the Hajj, or pilgrimage to Mecca, paintings on glass become a popular artistic medium in Senegal. Created by applying paint to the reverse sides of glass panels-called suwer in Wolof from the French expression sous-verre (under the glass)-this method becomes an attractive and durable means of producing portraits and illustrating religious stories and parables. Devotional portraits of Sufi saints and leaders of major Sufi Muslim brotherhoods are the primary genre of Senegalese glass painting.

  • early 1900s–present

    Representations of Ahmadu Bamba (1852–1927), founder of the Sufi Muslim brotherhood Muridiyya, become increasingly numerous throughout Senegal, particularly in the Mouride stronghold of Dakar. Bamba was a pacifist leader who mobilized Senegalese labor forces by extolling the spiritual virtues embodied in hard work, self-sufficiency, and education. He was viewed with suspicion by the French authorities, sent into exile twice, and finally placed under house arrest in Senegal until his death in 1927. Glass paintings and murals depict aspects of Bamba’s spiritual journey and earthly life. Of particular importance to Mouride art is a photograph of him taken in 1913, the only known portrait of the holy man made before his death. Although the original negative is lost, the print is the basis for countless devotional portraits in Senegal, especially during the final two decades of the twentieth century.

  • 1931–40s

    French ethnographer Marcel Griaule leads the Mission Dakar-Djibouti (1931–33), a research team organized to study the Dogon peoples of the Bandiagara Escarpment in central Mali. Over the course of the next two decades and beyond, members of the group publish more than 200 articles and books on Dogon culture, artistic practices, and religious beliefs. Griaule’s Conversations with Ogotemmêli, first published in 1948, provides an account of the Dogon creation myth as told by the researcher’s chief informant and collaborator, Ogotemmêli. Its serious treatment of African belief systems and intellectual traditions, coupled with its broad popularity in Europe and North America, inspire enormous interest in the sculpture of the Dogon and neighboring peoples in Mali.

  • 1936

    The Institut Fondamental d’Afrique Noire (IFAN) is established in Dakar by the French West African colonial government to support research into the natural and social sciences within the vast geographical area comprising present-day Senegal, Mali, Mauritania, Burkina Faso, Côte d’Ivoire, Guinea, Republic of Benin, and Togo. Anthropological and historical research conducted under IFAN sponsorship constitutes an invaluable source of information leading to a more complete understanding of African artistic, social, and spiritual practices.

  • 1940s

    Senegalese poet Léopold Sédar Senghor emerges as an important leader of the Negritude movement, a philosophy that embraces the productive integration of African traditionalism and Western “modernity.” In 1947, Senghor edits the first collection of Negritude poetry, Anthologie de la nouvelle poésie nègre et malgache, with an introduction by Jean-Paul Sartre. Senghor is elected president of newly independent Senegal in 1960 and is eventually elected to the Académie Française.

  • 1940

    Black Africans from French and English colonies are conscripted into the war against Nazi Germany.

  • 1946

    French citizenship is extended to all inhabitants of French colonies.

  • 1948–60s

    Opening a photographic studio in Bamako, Mali, Seydou Keïta (1921?–2001) creates studio portraits of urban Bamakois. The remarkable photographs capture the optimism of a rising Malian urban middle class by combining the aesthetic vision of the photographer with the sitter’s own self-presentation. Keïta’s subjects proudly display “modern” props such as wrist watches, radios, and Western clothes posed against lushly patterned cloth backdrops, producing technically complex and richly textured images that exhibit a unique moment of cultural change.

  • 1958

    Sekou Touré becomes president of newly independent Guinea.

  • 1960

    Senegal, Mali, Upper Volta (Burkina Faso), Mauritania, Niger, and Chad gain independence from France. Senegal is initially part of the Mali Federation but shortly secedes to become a separate republic under the leadership of Léopold Sédar Senghor. Mali establishes a socialist state under the presidency of Modibo Keïta. Upper Volta is led by Maurice Yameogo. Newly independent Chad is marked by tension between the largely Christian south and the Muslim north; François (later Ngarta) Tombalbaye, a southern Christian, becomes the first president.

  • 1960

    IFAN is integrated into the Université Cheikh Anta Diop in 1960 at the time of Senegalese independence. The Musée de l’Art Africain, housed in the former governor’s residence, is created in that year to display IFAN’s diverse collections of African art.

  • 1960

    D. T. Niane publishes Soundjata, ou, L’épopée mandingue, a French translation of the Sundiata epic. The saga of Sundiata Keita, founder of the far-flung Mali empire (13th–16th centuries), provides an important point of national pride and cohesion for the nascent country and, for many Western readers. It is one of the earliest transcribed contributions to African oral history.

  • 1960s–70s

    The Department of Fine Arts and the Workshop for Research in Black Visual Arts are established at the École Nationale des Beaux-Arts du Sénégal in Dakar. The department is headed by Iba N’Diaye (1928–2008), while Papa Ibra Tall (born 1935) is appointed director of the workshop. Tall’s interest in and promotion of the textile arts leads to the establishment in 1965 of the Manufacture Nationale de Tapisserie in Thiès, Senegal.

  • 1963

    Borom Sarret, a film by Senegalese filmmaker Ousmane Sembène (1923–2007) about a carter in Dakar, is the first African film to be funded by the French Ministère de Coopération, and wins first prize at the International Film Festival in Tours, France. Author of the novel Le Docker Noir (The Black Docker, 1956) and creator of several other films, Sembène, who had been a longshoreman at the French port of Marseille, is concerned with the conditions of contemporary African workers in Africa and abroad. Xala, his most renowned film, is a fiercely biting satire of Senegal’s corrupt political and economic leadership. The stark realism of Sembène’s work reflects his training at the Gorky Studio in the Soviet Union as well as the Neorealism of his French contemporaries.

  • 1963

    A Muslim revolt in northern Chad, led by the Chadian National Liberation Front (Frolinat), turns into full-scale guerrilla war, which continues through the 1980s.

  • 1965

    Gambia achieves independence from Britain.

  • 1966

    The first Festival Mondial des Arts Nègres (World Festival of Negro Arts) is held in Dakar, Senegal, under the patronage of President Senghor.

  • 1968

    Malian president Modibo Keïta is ousted in a coup led by Lieutenant Moussa Traoré.

  • 1969

    FESPACO (Festival Panafricain du Cinéma et de la Télévision de Ouagadougou), the largest festival of African film on the continent, is founded in Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso. The mission of the biennial event is to promote and safeguard sustained intellectual and financial support for African cinema and to cultivate an indigenous audience for this important art form.

  • 1970s–present

    Ongoing archaeological investigations at the early city of Jenne-jeno and other sites in the Middle Niger Delta, Mali, reveal important information about the development of religious activities, economic relations, and patterns of urban settlement among the region’s multi-ethnic inhabitants. These findings provide information about the conditions under which the famous Middle Niger terracotta figures were created and used.

  • 1970

    Drawing upon West African traditional forms of storytelling, director Med Hondo (born 1936) attempts to define an independent African cinematic language. Soleil O, which portrays the economic and political exile of many French-speaking Africans to France, is praised at the 1970 Cannes Film Festival for its thematic content and formal experimentation.

  • 1973

    Djibril Diop Mambéty’s (1945–1998) film Touki Bouki reveals a dystopian vision of the contemporary Senegalese populace embattled by class struggle and a desire for the economic privileges of France.

  • 1974

    Ousmane Sembène (born 1923), a novelist, turns to cinema in order to reach a larger audience, receiving advanced training in the Soviet realist documentary style. Xala, his most renowned film, is a fiercely biting satire of Senegal’s corrupt political and economic leadership.

  • 1975

    In Chad, drought and the continuing war between north and south precipitate a coup organized by southern Christian Félix Malloum. President Tombalbaye is killed in the coup.

  • 1976–77

    Baara, a film by acclaimed director Souleymane Cissé (born 1940), though declared byFilm Comment as “the best African film ever made,” is banned by Malian authorities. Cissé’s next work, Yeleen (Brightness), a coming-of-age story set in Mali, is a prize winner at the 1987 Cannes Film Festival.

  • 1976–79

    Spain pulls out of Spanish Sahara, and Mauritania and Morocco divide up the territory, now renamed Western Sahara. The Polisario Front, which aims to establish an independent state in the territory, fights both countries. Mauritania eventually renounces any claim to Western Sahara and signs a peace accord with the Polisario Front. Morocco then annexes Mauritania’s share of the territory.

  • 1977

    Malian singer Salif Keïta (born 1949) receives the prestigious National Order of Guinea from President Sekou Touré. Widely popular in his adopted city of Abidjan, Côte d’Ivoire, Keïta and his band Les Ambassadeurs Internationaux (formerly The Rail Band) create a fusion of Cuban, Congolese, and Malian musical influences. Keïta moves to Paris in 1984 to pursue a solo career, releasing Soro in 1987.

  • 1978

    Mauritania’s first postindependence president, Moktar Daddah, is ousted in a military coup.

  • 1980s

    Galerie TENQ (the Wolof term for “connection”), followed by Laboratoire AGIT-Art, arises in opposition to what is perceived to be the overly decorative, apolitical, and “official” art of the École des Beaux Arts, Dakar. A loose collective of visual and performance artists led by El Hadji Sy, Issa Samb, Amadou Sow, and Bouna Medoune Seye, the Laboratoire facilitates the creation of installation and performance pieces rooted in the social activism and theoretical inquiry characteristic of international art movements of the time.

  • 1981

    Abdou Diouf becomes president of Senegal when Léopold Senghor steps down.

  • 1981

    Mauritania abolishes slavery, but the practice persists.

  • 1984

    In Guinea, after the death of Sekou Touré, Lansana Conté and Diarra Traoré stage a bloodless coup. Conté becomes president and Traoré prime minister.

  • 1984

    Upper Volta is renamed Burkina Faso.

  • 1987

    Malian film director Souleyman Cissé wins the Jury Prize at the Cannes Film Festival for Yeelen.

  • 1988

    The ancient cities of Jenne and Timbuktu, both in Mali, are named UNESCO world heritage sites. The designation affords protection for the delicate mud architecture and archaeological sites found at these two centers of trade and Islamic learning.

  • 1988

    Gaston Kaboré, president of the Pan-African Federation of Filmmakers and former director of the Centre National du Cinéma in Burkina Faso, directs Zan Boko (Homeland). The film poignantly depicts the story of a young Mossi man caught between urban expansion and his own sense of rootedness and belonging on ancestral lands.

  • 1989

    The controversial film Finzan by Cheikh Oumar Sissoko (born 1945) examines issues of women’s health, specifically excision, or female circumcision, within the larger context of gender and generational conflict in contemporary Mali.

  • 1989

    The Bandiagara Escarpment, homeland of the Dogon peoples and source of historically important archaeological remains of the Tellem peoples, is designated a UNESCO world heritage site.

  • 1989

    Magiciens de la terre, the first major museum exhibition to prominently display modern and contemporary art from Africa, opens at the Centre Georges Pompidou, Paris.

  • 1990

    In Dakar, an album recorded by popular Senegalese musician Youssou N’Dour entitled Setinspires Sét-Sétal, a spontaneous movement named for the Wolof term for “cleansing,” in which urban youths erect sculptures and cover hundreds of city walls with colorful murals.

  • 1990

    Guinea adopts a new constitution providing for civilian government.

  • 1990

    Niger president Ali Seybou legalizes opposition parties following a wave of strikes and demonstrations.

  • 1990

    Chadian president Hissène Habré is ousted by rebels of the Sudan-based, Libyan-backed Patriotic Salvation Movement, led by Idriss Déby. Habré escapes to Senegal.

  • 1991

    The exhibition Africa Explores: 20th Century African Art opens at the Center for African Art, New York.

  • 1991

    Malian president Moussa Traoré is deposed in a coup and replaced by a transitional committee. The next year, Alpha Konaré becomes Mali’s first democratically elected president.

  • 1992

    The Dakar Biennale, or DAK’ART, is founded as a major exhibition of contemporary art from around the world.

  • 1993

    Mali becomes the first African country to receive protective sanctions against the importation of significant archaeological artifacts into the United States, the only major art-importing country to ratify the 1970 UNESCO Convention on the Means of Prohibiting and Preventing the Illicit Import, Export and Transfer of Ownership of Cultural Property.

  • 1993

    Lansana Conté remains president in Guinea’s first multiparty elections.

  • 1993–96

    Vallées du Niger (Valleys of the Niger), an exhibition presenting a survey of archaeological discoveries from West Africa, is hosted by major museums in Europe, North America, and throughout western Africa, including the national museums of Mali, Guinea, Burkina Faso, Nigeria, Niger, and Mauritania.

  • 1994

    Gambian president Dawda Jawara is deposed in a coup led by Lieutenant Yahya Jammeh

  • 1994

    The first Rencontres Africaines de la Photographie, a photography biennial, is held in Bamako, Mali.

  • 1995

    Africa ’95, a festival of African art in England, includes the work of several contemporary artists in exhibitions such as Seven Stories About Modern Art in Africa at Whitechapel Art Gallery, London, and Self Evident at the Ikon Gallery, Birmingham.

  • 1995

    The film Waati, by Malian director Souleyman Cissé, competes for the Palme d’Or at the Cannes Film Festival.

  • 1995–96

    Workshops Tenq in Saint-Louis and Dakar, Senegal, is organized in tandem with Africa 95, a year-long program of events dedicated to highlighting contemporary arts in Africa, held at venues in Africa and the UK.

  • 1996

    The Guggenheim Museum, New York, hosts a landmark exhibition of photography from throughout the African continent entitled In/sight: African Photographers, 1940 to the Present.

  • 1996

    Idriss Déby wins Chad’s first multiparty presidential election.

  • 1996

    The Ksour of Ouadane, Chinguetti, Tichitt, and Oualata in Mauritania, trading and religious centers established in the eleventh and twelfth centuries, are designated world heritage sites by UNESCO.

  • 2000

    Forty years of Socialist Party rule ends in Senegal when opposition leader Abdoulaye Wade wins the presidential elections.

  • 2000

    UNESCO launches its Memory of the World program with the Timbuktu Manuscripts Project, the goal of which is to catalogue, digitalize, and protect Timbuktu’s invaluable collections of ancient manuscripts.

  • 2001

    Nigerian curator Okui Enwezor curates The Short Century: Independence and Liberation Movements in Africa, 1945–1994, for the Museum Villa Stuck in Munich. The exhibition travels to Berlin, New York, and Chicago.

  • 2001

    Sudanese Salah Hassan and Nigerian Olu Oguibe are the first African curators to participate in the Venice Biennale. Their exhibition is entitled Authentic / Ex-centric: Africa in and out of Africa.

  • 2001

    The first Festival au Désert, an international celebration of culture and music, is held in the Timbuktu region, Mali.

  • 2003 onward

    Unrest in the Darfur region of Sudan spreads to eastern Chad, along with hundreds of thousands of Sudanese refugees, who are joined by thousands of Chadians fleeing the rebel insurgency as well as violence between ethnic Arab and ethnic African Chadians. Sudan and Chad accuse each other of harboring and supporting rebels.

  • 2003

    James Island and related sites in Gambia are declared world heritage sites.

  • 2004

    Late Senegalese film director Ousmane Sembène (1923–2007) wins the Un Certain Regard prize at the Cannes Film Festival for Moolaade.

  • 2004–5

    The exhibition Africa Remix: Contemporary Art of a Continent, under the curatorial direction of Simon Njami, travels to Düsseldorf, Paris, London, Tokyo, Stockholm, and Johannesburg.

  • 2005

    Senegalese singer Youssou N’Dour wins a Grammy award for Best Contemporary World Music for his album Egypt.

  • 2006

    UNESCO designates the Stone Circles of Senegambia world heritage sites. They consist of four large groups of stone circles that represent an extraordinary concentration of more than 1,000 monuments dispersed over several hundreds of kilometers on each side of the Senegalese and Gambian borders.

  • 2007

    A group of African artists is presented in the exhibition Think with the Senses, Feel with the Mind: Art in the Present Tense at the 52nd Venice Biennale. Works by about 100 artists and groups are shown at the Arsenale and the Italian Pavilion in the Giardini; Among the African artists represented in that section of the Biennale are paintings by Congolese Chéri Samba, photographs by Malian Malick Sidibé, comics by Ivoirian Faustin Titi and Cameroonian-born Eyoum Ngangué, and installations by Ghanaian-born El Anatsui. In addition to his monumental works shown in the Arsenale, Anatsui also transforms one of Venice’s most celebrated Gothic landmarks with a site-specific installation that redefined the facade of the Palazzo Fortuny.

  • 2007

    Malian photographer Malik Sidibé wins the Golden Lion for lifetime achievement at the 52nd Venice Biennale.

  • 2008

    Simon Njami organizes the first African Art Fair in Johannesburg.

  • 2008

    Paleontologists announce the discovery of two previously unknown species of carnivorous dinosaur based on specimens collected during an excavation in Niger conducted in 2000.

  • 2009

    Tuareg rebels sign a peace agreement with the government of Niger.


“Western and Central Sudan, 1900 A.D.–present.” In Heilbrunn Timeline of Art History. New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 2000–. http://www.metmuseum.org/toah/ht/?period=11&region=afu (October 2004)