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African Masks, Primitive Art, Picasso By Paul Rance

In the 20th Century the artistic styles used on African masks, and African art generally, began to influence European artists. One of the artists to be most heavily influenced, by what was termed primitive art, was Pablo Picasso, and this led to the creation of Cubism.

The Functions of African Masks

African masks have functions beyond the artistic. They are used in a ceremonial and spiritual way. Creating African masks is also a skill that is handed down from generation to generation. The masks are popular throughout Africa, but African-style masks can also now be seen in carnivals around the world.

The typical African mask is designed to resemble the human face, but the features will often be distorted. The eyes may be small, the nose extremely long, and the mouth very close to the chin. The wearer of the mask will be expected to be like an actor playing a role, and be a link between this world and the spirit world, or a link to the natural world. Thus, the mask is used as a disguise also, and the distorted features help to preserve the anonymity of everyone who wears it.

A Strong Abstract Aspect

Representations of animal faces are also used in some masks, but again are not slavishly accurate depictions. Animal masks are often worn to, again, act out a role, by being the animal that the mask represents, and to use the mask as a means of communicating with the animal.

In Burkina Faso, one people use geometric shapes to symbolize the natural world. In fact, one of the noticeable elements in the design of African masks is the abstract. The masks are designed almost as a conduit to the spirit world, and to nature. This means that the mask is only meant to be a resemblance of a hunan being, animal, or elements of the natural world.

In some African countries, the facial features created for a mask have a deep meaning. The meanings can be passive, aggressive, wise, etc.

There are some masks that do attempt to be more attractive as standalone objects. Female masks tend to be designed to emphasize feminine beauty, with long eyelashes and more delicate features.

Materials Used for Making the Masks

Wood is most commonly used to make African masks, though metals are also commonly used. Items added to the mask itself include the hair of animals, feathers from birds, straw, seeds, and sea shells.

Copyright © Paul Rance/

Picasso and the Girl with a Ponytail Picasso and the Girl with a Ponytail
Author: Laurence Anholt
A Life of Picasso Author: John Richardson A Life of Picasso
Author: John Richardson

Product Description
From 1950 to 1962, the author lived near Picasso in France and was a friend of the artist. With a view to writing a biography, the art historian kept a diary of their meetings. After Picasso's death, his widow Jacqueline collaborated in the preparation of this work, giving the author access to the artist's studio and papers. Volume one of this four volume biography establishes the complexity of Picasso's Spanish roots; his aversion to his native Malaga and his passion for Barcelona and Catalan "modernisme". The author introduces new material on the artist's early training in religious art; re-examines old legends to provide fresh insights into the artistic failures of Picasso's father as an impetus to his sons's triumphs; and includes portraits of Apollinaire, Max Jacob and Gertrude Stein, who made up "The Picasso Gang" in Paris during the "Blue" and "Rose" periods. The author was awarded the 1991 Whitbread Biography of the year Award for this book.

From the Publisher
The second volume of Richardson's authoritative and bestselling biography of Picasso --This text refers to the Paperback edition.

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Author: BSB Publishing

PABLO PICASSO DVDs available from - in association with

Art Lives: Pablo Picasso DVD Art Lives: Pablo Picasso
B00019G8BU Artists of the 20th Century
B00009VTYF Paris Was a Woman [1995]
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