From the 1880s to 1940, French colonial officials, businessmen and soldiers, returning from overseas postings, brought home wooden masks and figures from Africa. This imperial and cultural power-play is the jumping-off point for a story that travels from sub-Saharan Africa to Parisian art galleries; from the pages of fashion magazines, through the doors of the Louvre, to world fairs and international auction rooms; into the apartments of avant-garde critics and poets; to the streets of Harlem, and then full-circle back to colonial museums and schools in Dakar, Bamako, and Abidjan.
John Warne Monroe guides us on this journey, one that goes far beyond the world of Picasso, Matisse, and Braque, to show how the Modernist avant-garde and the European colonial project influenced each other in profound and unexpected ways. Metropolitan Fetish reveals the complex trajectory of African material culture in the West and provides a map of that passage, tracing the interaction of cultural and imperial power. A broad and far-reaching history of the French reception of African art, it brings to life an era in which the aesthetic category of “primitive art” was invented.