The origins of African art lie long before recorded history, Rock art in the Sahara in Niger preserves 6000 year old carvings, and the earliest known sculptures of the Nok culture of Nigeria were made around 500 BC.
At the beginning of the 20th century there was an explosion of interest in abstraction, artists like Picasso (his Les Demoiselles D'Avignon 1907 where he used African tribal masks in the painting), Van Gogh, Matisse, Gauguin, and Modigliani all became aware of and inspired by African art. European architecture too was heavily influenced by African art.
These two carvings are made from ebony, a dense very dark wood, one of the most intensely black woods known, and it polishes to a very smooth finish. Unfortunately as a result of unsustainable harvesting many species yielding ebony are now considered threatened, and most of the indigenous ebony in Africa has been cut down illegally.