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Postcolonial Thoughts: Picasso Continued: Avant-Garde Africa

by Christopher Hutchinson

The End of Western Thought

Picasso’s “genius” also stems from his singular contribution that results in the end of the Western tradition of painting. Picasso is credited with the break from classical forms, proportions, and the tradition of rendering the perfect figure. This places Picasso as a heroic figure in art history. The “one” who took art upon himself to charter new territories and inspire new broken traditions.

Leonardo Vitruvian Man

This image provides the perfect example of Leonardo’s keen interest in proportion. In addition, this picture represents a cornerstone of Leonardo’s attempts to relate man to nature. Encyclopaedia Britannica online states, “Leonardo envisaged the great picture chart of the human body he had produced through his anatomical drawings and Vitruvian Man as acosmografia del minor mondo (cosmography of the microcosm). He believed the workings of the human body to be an analogy for the workings of the universe.”http://leonardodavinci.stanford.edu/submissions/clabaugh/history/leonardo.html

The leading piece of these broken traditions is evidenced by Picasso’s Les Demoiselles d’Avignon 1907, considered to be the precursor to cubism. Picasso’s “genius” is cemented in this singular piece where proportion, flatness, dimension are all broken in the new tradition Picasso sees.

“Les Demoiselles d’Avignon marks a radical break from traditional composition and perspective in painting. It depicts five naked women with figures composed of flat, splintered planes and faces inspired by Iberian sculpture and African masks. The compressed space the figures inhabit appears to project forward in jagged shards; a fiercely pointed slice of melon in the still life of fruit at the bottom of the composition teeters on an impossibly upturned tabletop. These strategies would be significant in Picasso’s subsequent development of Cubism, charted in this gallery with a selection of the increasingly fragmented compositions he created in this period.” http://www.moma.org/collection/object.php?object_id=79766

Picasso is then credited with inventing cubism, along with Georges Braque, the backbone of the legend of Picasso. Cubism cements Picasso’s legacy. We are led to believe that Picasso’s venture into cubist practice was a natural progression improved upon the foundation provided by Paul Cézanne landscapes, where Cézanne used large geometric shapes, and block of color. This is a plausible explanation only for people who have no idea what it takes to paint, and or blind. There is no way to achieve Cubism without direct appropriation African Sculpture.


Cubism was one of the most influential visual art styles of the early twentieth century. It was created by Pablo Picasso(Spanish, 1881–1973) and Georges Braque (French, 1882–1963) in Paris between 1907 and 1914. The French art critic Louis Vauxcelles coined the term Cubism after seeing the landscapes Braque had painted in 1908 at L’Estaque in emulation of Cézanne. Vauxcelles called the geometric forms in the highly abstracted works “cubes.” Other influences on early Cubism have been linked to Primitivism and non-Western sources. The stylization and distortion of Picasso’s ground-breaking Les Demoiselles d’Avignon (Museum of Modern Art, New York), painted in 1907, came from African art. Picasso had first seen African art when, in May or June 1907, he visited the ethnographic museum in the Palais du Trocadéro in Paris. http://www.metmuseum.org/toah/hd/cube/hd_cube.htm

Avant-Garde Africa

Dr. Gus Casely-Hayford is a curator and cultural historian. He is a King’s College Institute Associate and a Research Associate at the University of London’s School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS).

As part of the Wonderful Africa Season in 2010, he presented Lost Kingdoms of Africa, four 60-minute programmes for BBC 2 and BBC 4. He presented a second series in 2012. Gus presented The Genius of British Art for Channel 4 in 2010 and hosted The Culture Show on BBC 2 in 2012. http://www.petersfraserdunlop.com/factual_tv/gus-casely-hayford

The contribution of Africa is not an afterthought; it is primary. The reduction of form, geometric vocabulary, multiple perspective, bulbous and inverted shapes on the same form, as well as the analytical investigation of form, and abstracted form, is all apart of African sculpture praxis. The intellectual credit that is heaped upon cubism and at the primitive label on Africa is unacceptable. The Museum placement of Cubism as modern and Africa in the basement is unacceptable. All modern art derives from Africa.

It is even more disturbing when people—the very people affected by this direct cultural appropriation—support these notions. The tradition is now upheld by their naiveté, their hoping to achieve intellectual social status through the same process that claims them to be primitive.

JAY Z “Picasso Baby: A Performance Art Film.” Directed by Mark Romanek.Performed at PACE gallery

What happens when a Ming dynasty porcelain vase is displayed in America without the Chinese knowledge? A Native American artifact? African art has been physically and intellectually appropriated without recognition. This practice must stop.

Christopher HutchinsonChristopher Hutchinson is an Assistant Professor of Art at Atlanta Metropolitan State College, Archetype Art Gallery Owner in Atlanta, Ga, and Smoke School of Art Founder. He received his Master of Fine Arts Degree in Painting from Savannah College of art & Design, Atlanta and his Bachelor of Arts Degree from the University of Alabama in Huntsville, Alabama. He lived in Alabama for 10 years before moving to Atlanta in 2008.

Learn more about Christopher and his work at Black Flight 144.

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