A Travellerspoint blog

African Art and Inequality

Luanda, Angola

Angola, a country located in southwestern Africa has faced challenges in recent years, fighting a civil war from 1975 until it ended in April of 2002. The country is rich in natural resources, particularly oil and diamonds, which have been the main drivers of its economy. However, despite this wealth, a significant portion of the population still lives in poverty. According to World Bank data, in 2018, about 32% of the Angolan population lived below the national poverty line. The national poverty line in Angola as of 2020 was 12,988 Angolan Kwanza per month per adult equivalent. This translates to approximately $21.50 USD per month (as of June 2024 exchange rates). The wealth distribution in the country is highly unequal, with a small elite benefiting from the country's natural resources while a large part of the population struggles to make ends meet.

Our visit to this country was based in Luanda, the capital and largest city of Angola. Before gaining clearance to leave the ship, we had breakfast on the aft in the open-air venue of the Windjammer restaurant. From there we observed a huge bulk carrier ship unloading bins of grain with a crane. It was an antiquated system that was very tedious. I can't imagine how long it was going to take to empty the entire ship's cargo.


As we disembarked from the ship, we were warmly welcomed by a group of locals adorned in their traditional attire. They greeted us with lively dancing, melodic chanting, and captivating entertainment. The locals' dress was a sight to behold, featuring an array of vibrant, printed fabrics artfully wrapped around their bodies. Many wore colorful headscarves or turbans, while others sported intricate necklaces, bracelets, and anklets crafted from brilliant beads. Some carried baskets on their backs, woven from natural materials like straw or palm leaves, used for transporting goods such as food or firewood. A striking feature of their appearance was the white face paint called mussiro, derived from tree bark, which serves as a symbol of beauty and cultural identity among the local population.


We had been forewarned about the high crime rate in the area, so we opted not to venture far from the port. Beyond that, the temperature and humidity have begun to soar as we move closer to the equator along this coastal city. We took the ship's shuttle service to a nearby square where locals were selling their wares.


The market featured a variety of traditional and contemporary African art forms:

  • Wooden carvings: Intricate wooden sculptures and masks carved from local wood, often depicting animals, human figures, or abstract designs.
  • Textiles: Hand-woven textiles and printed fabrics featuring traditional African patterns and designs. These may include clothing items, tapestries, and decorative pieces. [I would have bought some fabric for Beka to sew me a quilt but I know she's being kept busy with school and work :)]
  • Jewelry: Handcrafted jewelry made from local materials such as beads, shells, wood, and metal. Pieces often incorporate traditional African design elements.
  • Dolls: Dressed in traditional attire, including beaded headdresses and skirts. [Once again, I thought of Beka, if she were younger, I would have bought one of these too!]
  • Basketry: Woven baskets made from local plant fibers, often featuring intricate patterns and designs.
  • Paintings: Colorful paintings on canvas or fabric, often portraying scenes of daily life, landscapes, or abstract compositions. Many artists use vibrant colors and bold patterns in their work. I was immediately struck by the vibrant colors, which brought back memories of my previous experiences with African art. From the beginning of our African safari until now in Angola, I have grown to love the richness of color and the fascinating subject matter in African art. It's not for everybody but is definitely in keeping with my preference for abstract, contemporary art.

I bought two canvas pieces which the artist removed from the frames so they could be easily packed. Here's the incredible thing .. I paid $15 each. That's equivalent to about a month and a half income for this talented individual! So glad I made the purchase. Now I just have to decide where to place it once I'm back home :)

Speaking of artwork - I hope you can appreciate as much as I did, this artwork along the warehouse wall in the port where we docked in Luanda.


Despite abundant natural resources such as diamonds and oil, this country has not achieved the prosperity one might expect. As we've observed during our travels across the continent, corrupt governments often contribute to a vicious cycle of poverty and unemployment that traps a significant portion of the population. This unfortunate pattern hinders progress and perpetuates economic struggles for many citizens such as those in Angola.

Posted by Where2FromHere 09:41 Archived in Angola

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