«Around the end of the 19th century in France, while the notions of superiority of “high art” were coming down, a new generation of artists arose that was to soak up the influences of tribal art, completely reinventing the visual language of their time. They took up images from non-Occidental cultures, from folk and naive art and, through individual experimentation, infused them with new meaning. They created a new visual language, very much at odds with the traditionally representational ideals of the academy. Paul Gauguin was the first to run away from modern civilization, all the way to Tahiti. There, his post-impressionist idiom was enriched by the aesthetics of the indigenous people, creating a formula that was to give him a good deal of controversy but also great posthumous fame. Picasso came next and during his proto-cubist period developed a fascination with African masks. They served as an inspiration for his revolutionary canvas Les Demoiselles d’Avignon created in 1907.
Matisse, a life-long friend and rival of Picasso’s, also adopted certain primitivist influences, ideas from art in Africa, as well as those derived from the Islamic culture. His visits to Morocco and Algeria marked an exceptionally fruitful period of his career. Another fauvist, Andre Derain, went through numerous phases, and between his pointilist and increasingly classicist idioms, adopted a primitivist look. Surrealism, arguably the most eclectic style of the 20th century, wasn’t immune to influences from across the globe either. Simple yet poweful shapes taken directly from Africa and Oceania, as well as Indian sources feature prominently on the canvases of Max Ernst from the 1920’s and 30’s, as well as his friend and surrealist André Breton, who found inspiration not only in African Tribal Art – as in the 1948 work Masque Africaine – and oceanic, but also in the North American indigenous art of the Hopi and Yup’ik peoples.
For the remainder of the 20th century, even though not necessarily a part of the mainstream, tribal art remained a source of inspiration for countless artists.»