During the early 1900s, the aesthetics of traditional African sculpture became a powerful influence among European artists who formed an avant-garde in the development of modern art.
While these artists knew very little of the original meaning and function of the African and other primitive sculptures they encountered, they instantly recognised spiritual and compositional qualities that acted as a key, allowing them to go beyond the naturalism that had defined Western art since the Renaissance.
In 1907, Picasso experienced a “revelation” while viewing African art at the ethnographic museum in Paris, the Palais du Trocadéro. This encounter impacted his work for the rest of his life. He was not the only artist influenced by African and Oceanic art – Modigliani, Matisse, Gauguin, Klee, Basquiat, Bacon, Leger and many others fell under its spell.
The tide of influence moves in both directions.
While European artists revelled in the discovery of primitive art, colonisation took with it ideas and artefacts, and in return filled the vacuum left behind with its own ideologies and consumeristic influences. Globalisation has resulted in universally known icons and brands.