Origins of Modern Art

West African sculptors have always sung while they worked. And they do not stop singing until their sculptures are finished. That way the music gets inside the carvings and keeps on singing.
    In 1910, Leo Frobenius found ancient sculptures on the Slave Coast that made his eyes bulge.
    Their beauty was such that the German explorer believed they were Greek, brought from Athens, or perhaps from the lost Atlantis. His colleagues agreed: Africa, daughter of scorn, mother of slaves, could not have produced such marvels.
    It did though. Those music-filled effigies had been sculpted a few centuries previously in the belly button of the world, in Ife, the sacred place where Yoruba gods gave birth to women and men.
    Africa turned out to be an unending wellspring of art worth celebrating. And worth stealing.
    It seems Paul Gaugin, a rather absent-minded fellow, put his name on a couple of sculptures from the Congo. The error was contagious. From then on Picasso, Modigliani, Klee, Giacometti, Ernst, Moore, and many other European artists made the same mistake, and did so with alarming frequency.
    Pillaged by its colonial masters, Africa would never know how responsible it was for the most astonishing achievements in twentieth-century European painting and sculpture.

Eduardo Galeano, Mirrors. Portobello Books, 2009 (2008).

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