In 1910 the paramount chief Tupua Tamasese Lealofi and a handpicked entourage of singers and dancers traveled to Germany from Samoa—then a German colony—for what colonial officials had framed as a diplomatic mission. Although Tamasese did secure meetings with many German dignitaries, he was dismayed to discover the true purpose of the visit: to have his troupe stage cultural shows for European audiences in zoos.
In this depiction of a performance, Erich Heckel’s abstracted style likely takes inspiration from art of the Pacific Islands, a place German artists idealized as untouched by modern forces. Yet his primitivized portrayal of the dancers—which distorts both their bodies and the costuming recorded in photographs—reflects the modern dynamic of colonial exploitation that shaped this encounter.
Woodcut on laid paper
Image: 8 1/16 x 13 1/4 in. (20.5 x 33.7 cm)
Sheet: 10 x 18 1/4 in. (25.4 x 46.4 cm) (show scale)
Verso lower center: "BROOKLYN MUSEUM/BROOKLYN, N.Y." in rectangle (Lugt 307b)
Signed, "Erich Heckel '11" lower right margin, in pencil
Lower left: illegible; lower right in graphite: "Erich Heckel 11"
Verso lower center in graphite: "38.796."
This item is not on view
Erich Heckel (German, 1883-1970). Samoans (Samoanerinnen), 1911. Woodcut on laid paper, Image: 8 1/16 x 13 1/4 in. (20.5 x 33.7 cm). Brooklyn Museum, By exchange, 38.796. © artist or artist's estate (Photo: Brooklyn Museum, 38.796_PS2.jpg)
overall, 38.796_PS2.jpg. Brooklyn Museum photograph, 2008
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