Max Pechstein’s deliberately crude execution—rough gouges, simplified forms, and contrasts of color—heightens the primitivist atmosphere of his subject, an African dance. The closed-eyed flutist is totally given over to the raw power of the music. The dancers move ecstatically to the beat of the drum, with their heads thrown back and feet pounding the earth, completely in touch with nature.
Pechstein, like his fellow members of the Brücke, embraced the arts of Africa and other non-European cultures as more authentic and uncorrupted antidotes to the stultified refinement of German society. These performances, however, were no less artificial or commercialized than cabarets featuring European performers. Pechstein based this print, for example, on a Somali dance he saw at an ethnographic show in Berlin or Dresden. These Völkerschauen, products of colonialism that were usually held in zoos, displayed the lives of “natural peoples” for the entertainment of European audiences.
Publication excerpt from Heather Hess, German Expressionist Digital Archive Project, German Expressionism: Works from the Collection. 2011.