From Africa to the Americas: Face-to-Face Picasso, Past and Present

A major exhibition offering a new perspective and inspiring a rereading of art history.

From Africa to the Americas: Face-to-Face Picasso, Past and Present looks at the transformation in our view of the arts of Africa, Oceania and the Americas from the end of the 19th century to the present day. Following milestones in the life of Pablo Picasso (1881-1973) and in history, the exhibition explores the close relationship between the Spanish master and these arts, focusing on the history of attitudes. Throughout the show, works by contemporary artists of African descent provide a counterpoint, increasing the points of view on the international history of art that requires rethinking.

Nathalie Bondil, Director General and Chief Curator, MMFA, and curator of the Montreal presentation, explains, “This project appealed to me since it enabled us to tell the story of the decolonization of the gaze over a century, that of Picasso: He was born in 1881, a year before the opening of the Musée d’Ethnographie du Trocadéro and four years before Africa was divided among the European colonial powers in Berlin in 1885. He died in 1973, before the last African decolonization, Angola in 1975. This century plays out here like a book in which the emancipation of an entire continent recounts the emancipation of the gaze, of appropriation to re-appropriation.”

How have ethnographic objects come to be viewed as art? How can a Picasso and an anonymous mask be exhibited in the same plane? What were the stages in this ‘decolonization of the gaze’ from the last century to the present day? In Montreal, the exhibition tells the story of ‘the museum of the Other,’ from the legacy of a colonial world to its current redefinition as a globalized one. Taking a cross-cultural approach, we invited contemporary artists from Africa or of African descent into this narrative. Cultural Eurocentrism must be reviewed in a history of art yet to be reinvented: the borders that used to mark the accounts of modernism are now blurred.

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