While we might know of Modern African artists, many are often surprised to learn that many aspects of the Modern art movement (which started in Europe in the 19th century) were influenced by traditional African art.
European colonizers in Africa would often bring back African masks, statues, and artefacts back to Europe. African artworks at the Universal Exhibition held in Paris in 1900 left the European public awed as well as horrified.
However, it was exhibitions such as these that inspired European artists. Where many saw an “uncivilized” and untamed civilization, modern artists saw inspiration and opportunity.
African art has a major influence on early Modern art movements, such as Cubism, Fauvism, and German Expressionism. Works of masters such as Pablo Picasso and Henri Matisse, especially, can clearly be seen having African influence.
Picasso’s Les Demoiselles d'Avignon (1907) is a break away from traditional composition and perspective. One can see the clear influence of African masks in the two angular faces on the right. Some have even gone on to say that African artists invented the aesthetics that would finally lead to the modern art movement Cubism.
Henri Matisse replaced the youthful features of a German boy in The Young Sailor (1906), with more masklike features. Matisse, who studied African art in Algeria, was one of the key figures, along with Picasso, to help spread interest in Africa-influenced modern art.
In Emil Nolde’s Natura morta con maschere III (1911), too, one can see African influence in the use of bold colours, exaggerated expressions, and geometric faces.
Abstract art, especially, owes a lot to African art. While the colonizers did not fully understand the ingenuity of the sculptures and artefacts they brought back with them from Africa, it didn't stop European artists from incorporating abstractions in their own works.
It might not be an overstatement to say that this was a dramatic break from traditional European art up until that point.
Modern abstract art was majorly influenced by African art. "Bemusement", available on AFM Gallery, is an example of a modern work of abstract art, except this one is by Nigerian artist Ademola Adeshina.
African art, it is safe to say, has had a remarkable impact on modern art as we today know it. Arts and artefacts from Africa influenced various modern art movements then and continue to influence artists around the world even today.