Hunter-gatherers shared a symbiotic and ritualistic connection with the animals they killed for survival. A bond of respect and kinship between the stalker and his prey included prayer, incantations and rites. Failure to observe these ceremonies would result in an empty chase and starvation for the tribe. This poem by West Indian writer Eric Roach reflects the “I and you” concept as an unbroken bond, human animal to feral.
At Guaracara Park
The bronze god running,
beauty hurtling through the web of air,
motion fusing time and space exploding our applauses...
speed was survival there in the green heat
where the lithe hero dashed from the leopard’s leap,
fled to cover from the feral fang
or ran the antelope across the plains.
‘Primitive’ art, with its complete negation of progress, seemed to embody the promise of a new beginning. The animistic philosophy of carvers who divined the spirit of wood and stone was expressed in grains, textures and shapes of their materials. German Expressionists were fascinated by the strange forms and anti-intellectualism of the images. French artists such as Matisse found a justification for abstract designs in their simplified geometry. Amedeo Modigliani came to Paris as a young painter in 1906 and succumbed to the enchantment of the same Ivory Coast style that Picasso had adopted. In sculpture as in painting he made use of oval faces with elongated features.
The elemental simplicity of Brancusi’s sculpture had its formative inspiration in the power of rustic art and bold innovations of the Fauves, who were dubbed “wild beasts” by their critics. Seminal works such as ‘Bird in Space’ used bronze with such a high copper content that it approached the brilliance of gold. Like the Neoprimitives, Brancusi accepted his materials for what they were—marble for its polished smoothness and cast metal for structural versatility. Whatever the medium, the sculptor attempted to define its nature and realize its potential without forcing it to become something else.
Subjective interpretations of reality are confusing and often impenetrable aspects of indigenous art. An Egyptian official of high rank is shown in his tomb painting kneeling before a sacred date palm. In Mexico an Aztec warrior intones a greeting in Nahuatl and cries like a puma before drawing his bow and aiming at the deer he has tracked in the forest. Acceptance of other animals as peers in Old and New World lore is a common theme in literature, reliefs and paintings honoring the gods. Anamorphic man-animals served as representations of deities, often with multiple identities. These hybrids performed miracles, feats outside of human capabilities. They were mentors whose task was to guide us in the maintenance of our planet and the universe. ‘The Eagle Above Us,’ a Cora tribe 19th century poem extols the supremacy of this majestic bird as Lord.
The Eagle Above Us
In the sky the eagle, there is his place, there far above us.
Now he appears there.
He holds his world fast in his talons.
The world has put on a grey dress, a beautiful, living, watery dress of clouds.
There he is, far above us in the middle of the sky.
There he waits for the words of Tetewan.
Shining, he looks down on his world.
He looks far into the west.
Shining, he looks down upon the water of life.
His countenance is full of terrible disaster.
His eye is glorious.
His feet are already dark red.
When comparing folk and native aesthetics to sophisticated or fine art the object and its conversation with us has to stand alone. Training in aboriginal cultures was as rigorous and thorough as any to be found in First World academia. Many products of native origin show exceptional creativity and technical skill. Tribal artists demonstrated profound understanding of design, achieving true monumentality with simply articulated shape and form. Regional indigenous styles can be traced through specific chronological periods. Native artists borrowed freely from other cultures in distant lands as interaction between nations became increasingly sophisticated. The evolution of provincial expression shows historical continuity. Post Impressionists found new directions and fresh perspectives in old traditions that grew out of the need to control the supernatural world and explain natural phenomena in pre-industrial societies.
The supporting document "Ancient Futures" is also available as a separate, downloadable PDF at the Rhythm, Rhyme and Reason Store.