African culture is the inspiration behind the modern art movement
By Nicole D. Batey
Special at AFRO
As the largest continent in the world, encompassing 54 countries, over a billion people and so many countless aesthetic traditions, the demand for African art cannot be circumscribed by the global market. The influence of African art is so great that the traditional and more commercial sector of the global art market is taking notice and looking for ways to profit from the culture.
According to news.artnet.commuseums in Europe and North America have hosted an unprecedented number of exhibitions of African art in recent years.
The challenge is how, in some cases, older, traditional African works of art have been looted in their country of origin. They should be where they can be exposed with proper credit given in their home country and bring increased tourism and business to countries in Africa. However, the widespread exposure to African art in these museums and art galleries has led to increased demand from buyers around the world.
Said Kavita Chellaram, founder of the auction house, Arthouse Contemporary, in Lagos. “African collectors from different regions are now interested in buying African art…”
Hemingway African Gallery & Safaris, a second-generation New York-based company, has been in business since 1975 and its co-owners and siblings, Logan and Tuck Gaisford, have also noticed the trend. Their gallery focuses on sourcing art and home decor directly from African artisans.
“I think we may be one of the few, if not the only gallery in New York that has a primary focus on African art and decoration,” Logan said. “There is a strong demand for contemporary African art, which is incredible. It’s a market that has really integrated into the world of traditional modern art.
Some high-end furniture and home decor retailers here in the States have also taken note of the demand, for mass-produced pieces that definitely have an African influence or are made to look like ones from Africa, which is frustrating for those who want to support African artisans and their industry.
Logan says, “It’s a real trigger for me. Why can’t these retailers source directly from Africa, from local artists or artisans, supporting their industry, instead of faking the look for their own profit? I think it’s stealing African culture. Retailers who see these incredible creations by African artists and artisans, take and imitate their creations to mass produce in their facilities, this is a form of theft, and it is wrong. Africa is absolutely accessible and the artists there would absolutely love to work in collaboration with big companies here in the United States.
The influence of African culture is not new to the global art world. In the early 1900s, the aesthetic of traditional African sculpture became a powerful influence among European artists who formed a vanguard in the development of modern art.
According to Metmuseum.org, Henri Matisse, Pablo Picasso and their friends from the School of Paris blended the highly stylized treatment of the human figure in African sculpture with styles of painting derived from the Post-Impressionist works of Cézanne and Gauguin. The resulting painterly flatness, vivid color palette, and fragmented Cubist forms helped define early modernism. While these artists were unaware of the original meaning and function of the West and Central African sculptures they encountered, they instantly recognized the spiritual aspect of the composition and adapted these qualities to their own endeavors. to go beyond the naturalism that had defined Western art since the Renaissance.
Most artworks from Africa are mainly but not limited to masks, paintings, textiles and statues. Africans used different materials depending on their environment to produce these works, materials like wood, clay, shells, ivory, bronze, gold, copper, clay, feathers, l bark and raffia. Today, these works of art are appreciated, admired and proudly displayed around the world, increasing demand for their accessibility. Hopefully this will open more doors for African artisans and showcase their talented work.
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