A rare Pablo Picasso exhibition on show in Senegal’s capital

Pablo Picasso’s work is exhibited is in Dakar for the first time in 50 years although his work is relatively unknown in Senegal.

Apr 3, 2022 - 13:04
A rare Pablo Picasso exhibition on show in Senegal’s capital
Pablo Picasso’s work is exhibited in Dakar, Senegal for the first time in 50 years. Image via Twitter @lespaul55_57

An unprecedented Picasso exhibition opened this week in Senegal’s capital Dakar, where about a dozen of the Spanish master’s works are displayed alongside African art, from which he drew inspiration.

A pioneering modern artist who died in France in 1973, Picasso left behind a vast and influential body of work including paintings, sculptures and ceramics.


He was one of the founders of the Cubist movement and was heavily inspired by African art, with the influence notable in seminal paintings such as Les Demoiselles d’Avignon.

However, Picasso’s interest in Africa remains relatively unknown in Senegal.

El Hadji Malick Ndiaye, an art historian and one of the curators of the Dakar exhibition, said that every African should be proud of how the continent’s art had inspired Picasso.

Visitors should leave with “a sense of pride in what the continent’s artists have given, and in the diversity of styles that have generated new forms and nourished modern art,” he said. El Hadji Malick Ndiaye

The exhibition sees about 15 of Picasso’s works hosted in Dakar’s Museum of Black Civilisations, on loan from Paris. Alongside them are displayed works of African art, such as otherworldly traditional masks, which so fascinated the influential artist.


According to the exhibition curators, Picasso’s interest in African art began with a 1907 visit to the Trocadero Ethnological Museum in Paris, which has since closed.

The same year, he painted Les Demoiselles d’Avignon – which features five female nudes, two of whom are depicted with faces that bear striking similarities to traditional African masks.

A study of the painting is on display in Dakar, paired with an African mask appearing to depict a whistling face.

Cecile Debray, the president of the Picasso Museum in Paris, described Picasso as having a “very relaxed relationship to his sources,” mixing Romanesque, Iberian and African influences.

The Spanish artist, drawn by the novelty of non-Western artistic traditions, is known to have collected masks and statues from both Africa and Oceania for his studio.

Recent historiography has also highlighted his interest in the spiritual or magical dimensions of such art. Despite Picasso’s interest in Africa, he seldom travelled and never set foot on the continent, according to Debray.

She added that his interest was not solely artistic, however, and that Picasso was a committed opponent of colonialism. The artist was a friend of Senegal’s first president Leopold Sedar Senghor, who staged a Picasso exhibition in Dakar in 1972.


An artistic giant in the West, Picasso is a relative unknown in Senegal, a former French colony of 17 million people.

The exhibition organisers are trying to drum up interest by reaching out to schools in Senegal, where about half of the population is younger than 20.

Daouda Sarr, 24, a project management student, told AFP he had heard of Picasso but thought of him as a French or European artist.

“I was surprised to see that Picasso had done all this around African culture without ever having set foot in Africa,” he said during the exhibition’s opening on Friday. Daouda Sarr

Sarr said he preferred the whistling mask to the Les Demoiselles d’Avignon painting, “because it is an African mask”.

Awa Dia, a 27-year-old who was also at the opening, said that links between Picasso and Africa came as a surprise to her too.