When considering the influences that the European art experienced in the early 20th century, one must mention Africanism as one of the most unique and unusual ones. In her article “The White Peril and L’Art nègre: Picasso, Primitivism, and Anticolonialism,” Patricia Leighten explains that colonialism had a massive impact on the artistic choices made on the specified time slot. Because of the traces that the colonialism left on the history of relationships between France and Africa, primitivism emerged in the French art, thus, giving voice to artists such as Picasso.
As an artistic genre, Africanism caused the further development of the Primitivism movement, which was typically appreciated for its naïveté and was often surrounded by the air of romanticism. However, even though a significant number of African artistic elements, including Iberian forms, made their way into a range of art pieces that are currently lauded for their innovative approach, essential ideas that underlay these forms were overlooked. Thus, new art pieces barely scratched the surface of the African culture.
Therefore, the anarchist approach that Picasso used when exploring the depth of the African art and combining it with the French one must be appreciated for its uniqueness. Kees van Dongen’s artworks also drew audiences’ attention to the issues associated with colonialism and the injustice that African people had to suffer. As a result, strong anticolonialism themes emerged in the works of artists of the identified time period (Leighten 610).
The resulting creation of the Avant-Garde movement was at first deemed as the anarchist movement that affected the very nature of art. However, from the contemporary perspective, the introduction of the African motifs into the French art was not only inevitable but also essential. It helped shed light on some of the political and social issues that could be observed in the context of international relationships, therefore, bringing some of the most controversial aspects thereof to the public’s attention. Despite the fact that not all of Picasso’ works dedicated to the portrayal of the issues related to the African culture were made available to the public in museums, these art pieces were shared and shown to the visitors of Picasso’s studio. As a result, the concept of the Avant-Garde movement settled fast in the French artistic environment.
Shedding light on the complicated relationships between France and Africa, the artworks that incorporated African motifs and ideas helped explore the problem in depth. The elements that carried the air of primal life and exotic culture helped introduce the aspect of multiculturalism to French artists’ works. Furthermore, it contributed to the creation of the genre that defined the evolution of art, in general. Therefore, the works of Picasso, Kees van Dongen, and other artists that were inspired by the rough and challenging nature of the African art will remain timeless.
Leighten, Patricia. “The White Peril and L’Art nègre: Picasso, Primitivism, and Anticolonialism.” The Art Bulletin, vol. 72, no. 4, 1990, pp. 609-630.