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How African art has influenced the Western architecture

Posted by cultureafrico on February 28, 2011

How African art has influenced the Western architecture

African art became a great source of fresh inspiration to the artists of the early twentieth century who wanted to do away with the established artistic conventions of the time. However, despite this important impact it had on Western art in the past century, for the time before that it had little to no effect on European art. This was so because African art was conceptualized so differently than European art that most Europeans didn’t even consider it as art; the concepts of African art and its emphasis on form and ritual were strange and foreign to Europeans and this lead to it being overlooked till the beginning of the twentieth century when in search of new artistic forms, European artists took a closer look at the apparent abstract forms of African art.

Prior to that, anthropologists who were studying African cultures were interested in these objects as interesting cultural artifacts never considering them as an art form. In fact, the earliest documented entry of a piece of African art into Europe was that of a Portuguese collector in 1470 acquired from the Kingdom of Kongo and by the end of the nineteenth century many more Europeans were collecting objects from Africa, but only considering them as interesting artifacts of exotic cultures, not as works of art.

However, at the beginning of the twentieth century, some artists wanted to modify the status quo of modern art and started to seek inspiration from the form-based African art pieces that were making their way into European museums. In fact, quite a few of modern European art movements have a lot to owe to African art because movements such as cubism, fauvism and expressionism found a new freedom of form from African art; many of the pioneers of modern European art like painters Pablo Picasso, Amedeo Modigliani and sculptors such as Constantin Brancusi and Alberto Giacometti found new sources of inspiration in African art.

One of the best known pieces of African inspired Western art is Pablo Picasso’s “Les Demoiselles d’Avignon” from 1907, the painting featuring a group of female figures whose angular forms and large facial features closely resemble African masks. And even though the painter denied any African influence on that painting, it’s a known fact that he was introduced to African art as early as 1905 by his friend Andre Derain and Picasso himself later acknowledged the strong impression that African art had on him.

German artists between the world wars worked extensively with African compositional devices in order to reject naturalism as it couldn’t be appropriated to their project of representing the anxiety, dislocation, and utopian fantasies of interwar German society.

African art also strongly influenced American twentieth century artists like Meta Warrick Fuller for instance who’s “Talking Skull” sculpture is inspired from reliquary figures from Kota of Gabon, or American sculptor Martin Puryear who took forms and traditional techniques found in African basketry and carpentry and adapted them into more formal and abstract kinds of modern Western art.


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