Basharat Bashir

The Profound Influence of African Art in

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Picasso to Modigliani

Making of Masters

Although the whole cubism movement was sparked by African masks and their geometrical form many retain that his borrowing from these cultures was not necessarily intentional. Most art historians agree that there are striking similarities between Picasso’s work and art coming from the African continent, and Picasso himself initially acknowledged the initial impact African art had on his vision as an artist, but he later denied that his work was inspired by it.

The rich and diverse cultural heritage of Africa has had a profound impact on Western modern art movements throughout history. From the early 20th century to the present day, African art and aesthetics have played a significant role in shaping and inspiring Western artists, challenging traditional artistic norms, and promoting cultural exchange.

The late 19th and early 20th centuries marked a period of increased exploration and colonial expansion in Africa. European artists, explorers, and collectors were exposed to a wide range of African artifacts, sculptures, masks, and textiles, which greatly influenced their artistic sensibilities. These artworks were often characterized by bold forms, vibrant colors, and intricate designs, challenging the prevailing Western notions of realism and naturalism.

Most of the western art movements that shaped the progress of western art and overall artworld were sparked by African art.  Many famous artists such as Matisse, Modigliani, Brancusi, Picasso, and Braque, known as the “Parisian School,” drew inspiration from African masks and sculptures, reshaping their artistic styles and creating revolutionary works. Modigliani was profoundly influenced by the elongated faces of Baule masks and figures, characterized by a distinctive heart shape tapering to a point at the chin, with a small mouth positioned unusually low on the face. This unique facial style captured his imagination, leading him to incorporate it into a series of sculptures and paintings that he created later on.

However, it is essential to acknowledge the colonial context in which this influence emerged. The European fascination with African art began with the establishment of museums dedicated to exotic and colonial art in Paris during the mid-19th century. However, this “discovery” was entangled with the colonial project and a sense of European superiority. The colonial powers considered African art as primitive and uncivilized, viewing it through the lens of racial hierarchies and stereotypes. These museums and exhibitions displayed African artifacts as curiosities rather than recognizing them as significant artistic creations. The colonial disregard of African influence on Western art stemmed from a deeply ingrained belief in the cultural and artistic superiority of the West, perpetuating a colonial hierarchy that marginalized non-Western cultures.

While the Parisian School artists, including Picasso and Matisse, were deeply influenced by African art, their appreciation often came from a position of cultural appropriation rather than genuine understanding. Picasso, upon visiting the Trocadero Museum, initially perceived African masks as repellent due to his Eurocentric upbringing. It was only later that he recognized their profound artistic significance. However, even in their recognition, these artists often stripped African art of its original cultural and spiritual context, reducing it to mere formal and aesthetic inspiration. This approach allowed them to exoticize and appropriate African art, divorcing it from its rich cultural heritage.

One of the most notable movements influenced by African art was Cubism, pioneered by Pablo Picasso and Georges Braque. Inspired by African sculptures, particularly from the Fang, Kongo, and Baule cultures, Picasso and Braque embraced the simplicity and geometric abstraction found in African masks. This influence led to the development of Cubism, characterized by fragmented forms, multiple viewpoints, and flattened perspectives.

African art also had a significant impact on Expressionism and Fauvism, two movements that rejected the constraints of traditional representation. Artists such as Emil Nolde, Ernst Ludwig Kirchner, and Henri Matisse were captivated by the vibrant colors, raw emotions, and spiritual expressions seen in African art. They incorporated these elements into their work, creating bold, non-naturalistic palettes and expressive brushwork that aimed to convey the inner emotional state of the artist.

In the early 20th century, the cultural movement known as the Harlem Renaissance emerged in the United States, celebrating the artistic contributions of African Americans. Artists such as Aaron Douglas, Jacob Lawrence, and Romare Bearden drew inspiration from African art, infusing their work with African symbolism, themes, and motifs. African masks, textiles, and sculptures became powerful symbols of cultural heritage and identity, challenging racial stereotypes and promoting a sense of pride.

Although African art never received the recognition it deserved, yet influence of African art continues to be felt in contemporary Western art as well as overall artworld. Many artists today actively engage with African traditions, aesthetics, and narratives, exploring themes of identity, colonialism, and post-colonialism. The rise of globalization and increased cultural exchange have facilitated a deeper understanding and appreciation of African art, leading to collaborative projects, exhibitions, and cross-cultural dialogues between African and Western artists.

Socially engaged Art

Socially engaged art, also known as socially conscious art or participatory art, refers to artistic practices that aim to address social or political issues and actively engage with communities or specific groups of people. Unlike traditional forms of art that primarily focus on aesthetics or personal expression, socially engaged art seeks to create meaningful dialogues, foster social change, and promote inclusivity and collaboration.

Socially engaged artists often collaborate with individuals or communities affected by certain social issues or marginalized groups, such as refugees, immigrants, the homeless, or those living in underserved communities. Through various mediums such as installations, performances, workshops, or interventions, these artists aim to create spaces for dialogue, raise awareness, and empower participants to share their experiences and perspectives.

The goals of socially engaged art can vary widely depending on the artist’s intentions and the specific context of the project. Some artists aim to challenge existing power structures, amplify marginalized voices, or advocate for social justice. Others may seek to build bridges between different communities, stimulate dialogue on controversial topics, or create platforms for collective action.

Socially engaged art often goes beyond the traditional gallery or museum setting, taking place in public spaces, community centres, or even online platforms. It encourages active participation, blurring the boundaries between artist and audience, and promoting a sense of ownership and agency among participants.

While socially engaged art has its roots in various artistic movements throughout history, such as community art, participatory art, or activist art, it has gained increased prominence in recent years. This is due to a growing recognition of the role art can play in addressing complex social issues, fostering empathy, and inspiring positive social change.

One of the artists who is actively associated with socially Engaged Art is Ai Weiwei. Weiwei is a renowned Chinese artist, activist, and dissident known for his provocative and socially engaged works. He is a prominent figure in contemporary art, recognized for his commitment to human rights, freedom of expression, and challenging political systems. Ai Weiwei’s art often tackles themes such as censorship, government oppression, and social justice.

One of Ai Weiwei’s notable artworks is “Sunflower Seeds.” It was an installation exhibited in 2010 at the Tate Modern in London. The artwork consisted of millions of handmade porcelain sunflower seeds spread across the floor of the gallery. Each seed was individually handcrafted by artisans in Jingdezhen, China.

“Sunflower Seeds” serves as a symbol of collective identity and individuality within a mass society. It reflects on issues of mass production, labor conditions, and globalization. The installation invited viewers to contemplate the meaning of individual lives amidst a sea of uniformity. It also sparked conversations about the significance of labor, consumerism, and the interplay between art and societal values.

The creation of “Sunflower Seeds” involved collaboration with local artisans, highlighting the cultural heritage and economic challenges faced by the region. The artwork became a potent symbol of resistance and resilience, attracting international attention and cementing Ai Weiwei’s reputation as a socially engaged artist.

Children’s Art

Children’s art is a remarkable and enchanting world that captures the essence of uninhibited creativity and boundless imagination. It is a realm where vibrant colors, playful lines, and whimsical forms come together to express the unique perspectives and untamed spirits of young artists. From finger paintings to clay sculptures, children’s art serves as a window into their inner world, offering a glimpse of their thoughts, emotions, and experiences.

In children’s art, there are no rules or limitations. It is a space where young minds can explore, experiment, and take risks without fear of judgment. Every stroke of a paintbrush, every squiggle of a crayon, becomes a magical journey of self-expression. As adults, it is our privilege to encourage and nurture children’s artistic endeavors. By providing them with opportunities, materials, and a supportive environment, we empower them to explore their imagination, boost their self-confidence, and develop a lifelong appreciation for the arts.

Through their artwork, children develop essential skills and abilities. They learn to observe the world around them, capturing details and transforming them into visual representations. Art nurtures their fine motor skills as they manipulate various materials, shaping them into unique creations. It also fosters problem-solving and critical thinking as they make choices about colors, composition, and subject matter.

In essence, children’s art is a testament to the power of unfettered imagination and the beauty that lies within each young artist. It reminds us of the importance of preserving the innocence and creative spirit of childhood, fostering an environment where young minds can flourish and create masterpieces that are truly one-of-a-kind

Children’s art is not merely about the end product; it is about the joy of the artistic process itself. It is a celebration of spontaneity, curiosity, and a sense of wonder that comes naturally to young minds. Each piece of children’s art holds a story, a snapshot of a moment in their creative journey that reflects their emotions and experiences.


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