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#CongoLive facts: Picasso, Congo and its masks

The impact of Congolese Masks on Picasso

Picasso came in contact with the work of African artists at around 1905. This new form of art stimulated a great interest in him since it was different from what he was exposed to in the West. He was particularly fascinated with African Masks. After the great discovery he wrote:
“I have experienced my greatest artistic emotions, when I suddenly discovered the sublime beauty of sculptures executed by the anonymous artists from Africa. These passionate and rigorously logical religious works are what the human imagination has produced as most potent and most beautiful… At that moment, I realized what painting was all about!”

Picasso was above all taken by the elements and principles of design applied on the masks in addition to the emotions that they transmitted. Captured by the power of these new forms, he begins to apply them into the preliminary sketches for Les Desmoiselles d'Avignon, from which originated Modern Art and the Cubist Movement.

The mask worn by the woman in the bottom right corner of Les Demoiselles d’Avignon is based on the Mbuya (sickness) Mask, created by the Pende of the D.R Congo, as revealed by art experts. It is noticeable that Picasso painted an unadulterated reflexion of this mask. All facial distortions and expressions created by the Congolese artist have been retained and faithfully reproduced. Interestingly, facial distortions and emotional expressions are what constitute the quintessential elements in both Les Demoiselles d’Avignon and the Mbuya Mask.

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