An Art Historical View on The Contribution, Beauty & Impact of African Art on Global Artmaking

Published 27 January 2020 in News & Press

The Melrose Gallery

Art history’s examination of Africa’s influence on modern and contemporary art reveals important influence. At the start of the 20th C, many artists such as Derain, Picasso, Matisse and Modigliani became enthralled by African art and began to visit the Trocadero museum in Paris to gaze upon the unique forms, absorbing all that was presented before them. These artists saw in this art a formal perfection countered by abstraction, asymmetry by balance, primitivism with sophistication of design. 

They responded to this raw expressive power with all their faculties, not only with sight but with imagination and emotion and experienced a mystical and spiritual encounter. This absorption exploded in a fascination in abstraction, organization and reorganization of forms, and the exploration of emotional and psychological areas that had not been investigated before. It helped them move beyond the naturalism that had defined Western art up to this point. The status of visual art was changed forever and Cubism was born, influenced by the African sculptor's simplified use of planes and forms and the rearrangement of human form that was based, in fact, on disproportion.

Artist Esther Mahlangu’s innate curiosity and bravado are as distinctive as the intricate patterns in her paintings so that the highly inventive artist went on to achieve international acclaim for her work and ideas disseminating the value and significance of her native isiNdebele culture art in the world.

These sophisticated geometric forms which feature in her life-sized walls-capes and canvases are derived from ancient patterns that have evolved over time as code within her culture - a symbolic language that conveys the messages of life and spirituality to communicate them through bold and colourful symbols. 

Africa In The World - Fostering Respect for Art, Ideas & Artists from Africa Globally

Esther’s work and outlook is revolutionary as she has broken through archaic colonial perceptions and categorizations related to art from the African continent and is highly prized and accorded value in galleries, cultural institutions, and well-known private and museum collections worldwide. Her work has broken artistic ground by cut through the endless debates in the Western art world ruminating over definitions and attempting to create assignations for contemporary African art that makes it either traditional artmaking or just, art.

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