Picasso and other artists of prewar France were fascinated with the cultural and political issues of Africa, which was reflected in their art. Primitivism that was used to portray various social issues and excerpts from the everyday life of African countries could serve not only as an art movement but also as a symbol of the difference between the two cultural worlds. However, Leighten argues that this interest in social and political issues could be a way to search for a new art style rather than a sincere thought (609). Primitivists were fascinated with the history of “primitive peoples” (Leighten 609). The artists’ attitude towards their culture was heavily romanticized and covered in mystical symbolism. However, their later interest in social issues influenced their art, as they became invested in the political problems surrounding the occupied continent. Modernists attempted to critique their civilized world by contrasting it with the supposedly primitive and authentic African world.
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However, the image of Africa was also created by the popular press, which was a source of information for the majority of artists. Articles in various newspapers contained tales from travelers who focused on sensational news and avoided topical issues (Leighten 611). Later, the rumors about military activity and the violence on the continent started to appear in the public’s view. It was represented in the works of artists who used primitivism in their caricatures, cartoons, and paintings to condemn colonialism. Modernists employed this style to maintain the fetishist portrayal of Africans while depicting new scenes. Overall, anticolonial ideas prevailed in drawings, including the works of Picasso (Leighten 628). At the beginning of the twentieth century, Picasso was able to use primitivism to simplify the objects in this works by referencing African art. Moreover, he used it as a way to create complex associations and allusions. Picasso’s artworks did not accept the canons of beauty, provoking the audience by depicting the most critical issues, and radicalizing the form of portrayal.
Leighten, Patricia. “The White Peril and L’art Nègre: Picasso, Primitivism, and Anticolonialism.” The Art Bulletin, vol. 72, no. 4, 1990, pp. 609-630.