During South Africa's history the nation's unique mix of cultures and ethnicities has produced a rich and varied collection of artistic works. The country can trace its artistic roots back to the dawn of mankind, when the ancient inhabitants of Southern Africa created rudimental jewelry and painted representations of their society and environment onto the walls of the caves they used as shelter.
For much of South Africa's history art was inseparable from the day to day living of the African tribes that inhabited the country. This traditional African art remains popular to this day, and is prized not only for its beauty and vibrancy, but also for the fact that it is often associated with items with practical applications, such as furniture, cutlery and clothing.
While traditional South African art in rural enclaves remains virtually unchanged from pre-colonial art, the growth of urban African communities has resulted in traditional African artistic techniques being adapted to express themes of urban life and survival. Colorful and engaging examples of urban African art can often be purchased at roadsides, and is popular amongst overseas visitors to South Africa.
The first white settlers in South Africa brought with them the artistic styles and techniques of the Dutch and Flemish folk artists and masters. While much of the early colonial artistic expression focused on portraiture, and traditional subject matter, some of South Africa's greatest artists were inspired by the country's landscape, and produced stunning images and protrayals of the South African wilderness.
From the late 19th century onwards South African artists found themselves increasingly influenced by European trends. Modern art came to the fore during this period, breaking from both traditional African and European art forms.
While many South African artists were influenced by European modern art and sought to explore this genre in an African context, exploring apolitical themes, others used the vibrancy and ambiguity of the modern art genre to express opposition to the policies of the Apartheid government.
South African art is exhibited and sold in various museums, galleries, stores and even roadside craft markets throughout the country. The largest annual exhibition of South African art is the Joburg African Art Fair, launched in 2007. Over 20 South African galleries exhibit art works at the African Art Fair, with pieces ranging in value from R1000 to over R5 million.