Egypt and the African civilizations surrounding came into closer contact largely through political domination and trade. Egypt built some of its strongest ties with Nubia, located in what is now Southern Egypt and Northern Sudan. Nubia was home to one of the earliest black civilizations, dating back to 3100 b.c. It was also rich in gold, ebony and ivory and would contribute greatly to Egyptian wealth.
Egypt's relations with Nubia from 1950 b.c to 1100 b.c. have been noted as being one largely of domination. During this time period Nubia adopted many aspects of Egyptian culture, such as the hieroglyphic writing system and the worship of Egyptian gods, although in many respects they adapted them to their own practices and rituals.
In recent years the discovery near Thebes of a tomb dating back to 1575 b.c has led to renewed interest on the nature of relations between the two nations. The finding consists of 22 lines of hieroglyphics, which describe the invasion of the Sudanese Kingdom of Kush in Egypt. Mamdouh El-Damadi, the director general of the Egyptian Museum in Cairo emphasized the importance of the inscription in understanding Kushite ambitions in Egypt (El-Ahram, p. 10). Some eight hundred years later the Kushites would be called upon to save Thebes from Northern invasion, an alliance that would result in the rule of Egypt and Nubia of Kushite kings. While historians have often portrayed Egypt's relationship with the African continent as that of dominator and dominated an examination of Egyptian artwork shows us that, indeed, it is far more complex.
Ancient Egyptian artwork was dominated by a strict set of rules, or a code, if you like. This code was called Frontalism and its most noticeable features were the human figure shown rigid with its head and legs turned to the side, but with its eyes and body forward facing. Despite the severity of the figure's stance their facial features are described as serene. Another aspect of Ancient Egyptian art is its continuity over a three thousand year old time span. Lisa Kremen notes that one of the most noticeable aspects of Egyptian culture was its "ability to preserve the past and prevail with relatively little change" (www.bergen.org).
As far back as early life in the Sahara we can see influences that would later be present in Egyptian Art. The Tassili cave paintings provide us with information about early life in the Sahara, before the desert began to dry and populations moved towards the Nile. Abimbola Asojo claims, "contemporary historians have stressed the influences of Saharan art and engravings on Ancient Egyptian art. Some of these scholars believe Ancient Egyptian art borrowed heavily from Sahara art which preceded and ran parallel to the Egyptian form (p. 129)." Many of the figures in the paintings show aspects of Frontalism, with the figures rigid in posture and the heads and legs in profile (see image 1).
Of additional interest is the similarity between the depiction of human figures at Tassili and those of the Amarna period (see image 2). Differentiating from previous periods in Ancient Egyptian art Amarna art "resides in the physical appearance of Akhenaton, his wife and his daughters. Their elongate craniums, drooping features, long necks, pot bellies, large hips and