Sunday, November 19, 2006


Western civilization, since the end of Middle Ages, expanded progressively out of its environment, exploring new territories and discovering strange cultures, very different from its own. Towards them, the discoverer imposed a dominating attitude in the beginning. However, the perception on new civilizations and its population has hugely changed, along with the way of thinking and social changes in Occident.

XV to XVII centuries: The "savage"

Since XV century, Portuguese naos and Spanish caravels, to which other European empires joined later, explored the coasts of unknown continents, establishing colonies and forcing natives to assimilate their culture or exterminating them.
The conception of these new cultures is represented by the way to denominate them: "savages". This automatically puts them in a culturally inferior degree. Colonizers do not respect their customs, destroy their systems. As best, they experiment a simple curiosity for the rare items they contain. It is not rare to see an aristochrat that acquires an elephant tusk, an exotic music instrument or a mummified native, to show to his friends.
Representations of savages usually show their bodies as hairy and monstrous shape, and almost always in a wild and cannibal scene. Western mentality of that moment, very influenced by religion and superstitions, and reluctant to new points of view, naturally led to this monstruous concept of the new and unknown.

XVIII and XIX centuries: The scientific, artistic and social interest

With the arrival of the Enlightment and the use of reason, there starts to be a more constructive curiosity towards exotic cultures. Firstly, a purely scientific interest made antropologists and doctors from Occident study the differences and similarities of these "new people" to the known ones, as well as their way of living.
XIX century is the period of romantics, of explorers and adventurers. This is a perfect scenario for people like them. New territories are charted, scenes of tribal life are painted, and travel books that tell about rites and customs of these civilizations are written. It is the century of people like Livingstone, Stanley and Burton.
At the end of the century and beginning of next one, the positivist movement motivates to classify everything in the World. Naturalists and botanists travel around the Earth classifying new species, taking photos of animals and plants, and take information on non-civilized tribes that exist on the World.
From XX century: Integration

It is only in the past century that a value starts to be given to these cultures, that Western civilization assimilates their cultural contributions and artistic shapes. Modern painters, such as Pablo Picasso and André Breton, among others, among many others, integrate forms and aesthetics directly copied from African and South-american symbolic sculpture.
Globalized World is becoming a mix of trends that lead to a kind of world art. Cultural integration is greater, different lifestyles are adopted. Oriental philosophy and African music get mixed with western customs in an armonic way. Finally, we got to the product of several centuries of human evolution.

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