Transformational Geometry and Iteration in Mangbetu Art

Mangbetu art shows extraordinary use of geometric form. The software on this site will allow you to simulate traditional Mangbetu designs, and create new designs of your own using their techniques. Why did the Mangbetu create these geometric masterworks? The Mangbetu occupy the Northeastern part of the Democratic Republic of Congo. Around 1800, a number of small chiefdoms from different ethnic backgrounds were consolidated into the first Mangbetu kingdom. At first only royality wore these geometric patterns. After the kingdom fell, the royal style became available to everyone, and spread to many of the Mangbetu’s trading partners. This combination of cultural diversity, exchange, and prestige resulted in artists competing to show off their geometric ingenuity ("nakira"). Later tourism created a demand for what Europeans expected African art to look like, so the geometric emphasis declined.