Considering the two essays read for today, Patricia Leighten’s “The White Peril” and Anna C. Chave’s “New Encounters with Les Demoiselles D’Avignon“, it’s interesting to reflect on how African artifacts influenced and were portrayed in Modernist paintings. While in Picasso claims that the two figures with noticeably different and mask-like “heads” on the right in Les Demoiselles D’Avignon were not influenced by African art, it would be unwise to take him at face-value. Presently, while many art historians choose to believe Picasso’s claims, many are also observing the differences between the women in Les Demoiselles D’Avignon and coming to the conclusion that Picasso must have been influenced by African art, considering the time period and places in which he painted and his easy access to both written and visual media about African affairs. This makes me curious as to which vein of French thought about African was Picasso influenced – the socialist, anarchist side appalled by the atrocities Belgium and France were committing in the Congo’s (which Leighton claims was his viewpoint) or was he also possibly influenced by the fascination and awe with which France regarded the native people in West Africa? I would argue that his denial of African influences may be a confession of being appalled by the violence that was happening in the Congo, while being simultaneously entranced by the culture of the Africans he was likely exposed to during his time in France and not wanting to let go of such a significant influence. If he admits that he was influenced by African art, he admits that he was artistically influenced by the wrongdoings of France.
Ellee Banaszak, Hope College, Class of 2017
Photo: Aka Maraqu