In general, the styles of Zaire, now Democratic Republic of the Congo, can be characterized as a combination of symbolism and realism, wherein naturalistic forms--predominantly human and animal figures--are rendered not in precise imitation of nature but in an exaggerated manner. It is this "non-naturalistic reality" that distinguishes the art of this region from West African art. The sculptural forms are most commonly wood carvings: masks, ancestor figures, fetishes, bowls, boxes, cups, staffs, pots and lids, pipes, combs, tools, weapons, and musical instruments. Similar objects are also carved in ivory, and in some cases copper, brass, and iron are used. In rare instances, stone figures have been found.

Painting is not utilized greatly as a separate medium, but carved pieces frequently are painted. Masks and other pieces are covered with polychrome, the colors applied in wide patches and often in planes and angles upon smooth surfaces. In the huts in which rituals take place, wooden figures are hung on brightly painted walls. Stylistic differences within the two major regions of the southern savanna and the northern rain forest can best be seen by subdividing the areas according to the kingdoms that have determined the social, political, and artistic lives of the people. The savanna falls into the Lower Congo, Kuba, and Luba cultural areas; and the rain forest into the northern, northeast, and northwest areas.

Artistic styles of some DRC tribes are closely related and their artifacts may lack a solid documented history. The art objects originating from DRC which are difficult to attribute to a particular tribe living in this area are collectively displayed on this page.

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