A cold-painted sculpture of a dancing Zulu man
French school, first half 20th century
On a sculpted rocky base, the muscular African man performing a dance with arms raised and an expressive visage.
H. 55 x 42.5 cm
Till the end of the 19th century, Black Africa was a no-go-area for white people as it was considered far too dangerous. Only after the “discovery” of and the subsequent scramble for and colonisation of Africa around the turn of the 20th century by the English, French, Belgians and Germans, it was safe enough for individual travelling artists to enter the “Black Continent”. In 1908 the “Société Colonial des Artistes Francais” was created by Louis Dumoulin, offering grants to travel and work in Black Africa, Madagascar and Indo-China. Between the two World Wars, the number of western travelling artists in Africa reached a high point and the dominant image of Africa reaching the West was that of a sumptuous and 'exotic' continent with happy laughing men and women, young, naked, supple and muscled, dancing and singing most of the time.
It addresses two (for white people) rather unknown forms of bias, and we would like to try and explain them.
First, the masculine African man is dancing, and however so beautifully sculpted, has a sexual tension. Often, African people, both female and male alike were and still are sexualized.
Stigma such as voluptuous buttocks, male parts, lips and animal-like bed behaviour all contribute to this imagery. Many white people see these features as a compliment, but often black people are marginalized because of this as if there is nothing more to them.
Second, in the early 19th century, Africa was too dangerous for white people to go to, and the colonizing countries tried to make it more interesting by sending artists there to make it a continent of laughing, dancing, smiling good-hearted and less intelligent people. And because this sculpture is not blackface or caricature, it was perhaps even more damaging to the real African image because it is easier to believe.
The Western countries were successful and able to colonize the continent and drain it from its recourses. Up to this day, the fabricated image still resonates and blurs the real image of people of Africa or any black person alike.
Fortunately enough, there is less demand amongst white people for sculptures and imagery like the one present in recent years, but it still is an important historical source that shows the institutional racism we all still face. For such pieces, we actively look for clients in Africa or the Americas who can fully ‘own’ such a piece. We realize very much that objects from our collection are to be discussed, and although often very beautiful, we try to address the story behind these objects in full from a Western and, for instance, African perspective. We find this difficult, and we understand we will never understand properly and are open to suggestions.