Eugenio Granell Foundation Collection
Kachina dolls are made with the objective of teaching Indian boys and girls a series of spiritual beliefs by means of the representation of spirits, normally benefactors (Kachinas), who come down from the neighbouring mountains and accompany the Hopi people during six months every year. Kachinas are also represented by means of dance rituals, used to relate the cosmogony of the Hopi Indians. The men of the tribe perform a ritual in which they take on the appearance of Kachinas. These works are of special interest within surrealism since they fascinated and were collected by figures such as André Breton, Max Ernst or Roberto Matta. The real appraisal of the culture of North Americas native peoples had to wait until the 1930s, despite the fact that at the end of the 19th century, as was also the case in Europe at that time, ethnologists and anthropologists began to investigate the field of indigenous America. That period also saw the appearance of rooms devoted to Indians in museums, as well as the select collecting of so-called tribal arts. At the beginning of the 20th century, the dominant pictorial trend in America, based on folklore and local customs, included picturesque scenes featuring Indians as the main characters. In the 1930s, the prevailing appraisal of indigenous cultures (which oscillated between curiosity, exoticism, romanticism and paternalism) was abandoned in favour of using native culture as an essential element in the construction of national identity: tribal arts were now perceived as full of power, originality, freshness and spirituality; qualities that could help to strengthen not only art but also future society. In the case of surrealists, the appraisal of ancient American indigenous art was fairly widespread among the surrealist circle in Paris. The powerful influence exerted on the exiled artists by North Americas impressive landscape and the traditions of native peoples propitiated a profound transformation that, in many cases, endowed their creations with a force and power of extraordinary richness.
The exhibition features a selection of art from different peoples and cultures of so-called Black Africa, such as works from the Dogon and Bambara cultures (Mali), the Dan culture (Liberia)…, made up of religious objects belonging to different rituals, such as initiation rites performed by boys entering manhood, agricultural dances… During many centuries, Europe ignored the African continent, its southern neighbour, merely speaking about it in pejorative terms; it excluded the millennia-old high culture that developed around the Nile River (Egypt) from the the concept Africa, also forgetting about the rich cultural exchange that took place along the continents Mediterranean coast among Cretans, Phoenicians, Greeks, Carthaginians, Romans… The mid-19th century saw a decline in the slave trade, which had taken Europeans to the so-called Black Africa during centuries. However, this did not bring the inhabitants of both areas closer: Europe merely divided up the exploitation of African resources. In the late 19th century, in parallel to field research by anthropologists, scientists and sociologists who went to Africa, African culture became known in Europe by means of the format of Universal Exhibitions: large quantities of works from Africa were displayed without any order or arrangement, while works of art were exhibited with geological samples from the area. Above all, this unrelated collection of samples featured an abundance of wooden carvings, masks and varied anthropomorphic figures classified under the generic name of Fetiches. These carvings, masks and fetishes, which did not arouse special interest in their discoverers, who classified them as curiosities, are now considered examples of one of the greatest aesthetic achievements in human history. Pernicious political ambitions and poorly planned scientific projects would intervene decisively in the sub-Saharan peoples loss of cultural identity after decolonisation. It was not until the 20th century when the West decided to turn this vast part of the world into an object of cultural study.