These 'terrors' inspired Picasso to incorporate African iconography into his paintings. This "allowed him to introduce Africa into his work as allusion" that "were extraordinarily complex" to Parisians. He used the skull as a symbol, not only of the viewer's mortality, but that of art as well. His attack on art was used through the "expressive power" of African art.
"They were magic things," said Picasso.
This attack on art and society was not uncalculated. According to Patricia Leighten, for the "artist to pursue strategies of primitivism and spontaneity in both art and life was to rebel against morality and bourgeois art."
French colonialism of Africa was at this period of time, making outrageous headlines. Reports of abuses of Africans and other colonies were infiltrating into the avant-garde. Even within the city of Paris, "Prior to 1906, individual Africans, supplied by wild animal importers, were regularly exhibited."
The "intense political debate on colonial brutality" led Picasso and his peers to sympathize with and take interest in the colonies. Without actually going to Africa, the only avenue of exploration left to Picasso and other artists was the visual exploration of artifacts from these areas. Leighten states, "Picasso was able in his works of 1907 to summon up disturbing images of Africa, with its now unavoidable associations of exploitation and white, as well as black, savagery."
The chaotic background of Composition with a Skull can represent the chaotic world around which the focus is the darkness of humanity. All things "thrillingly barbaric and elemental" became associated with Africa. The skull represents the dark and mysterious. The painting is a "mediator" that reflects "our terrors" in which Picasso uses to his advantage. The "unknown hostile forces" around the skull are the actual terro, for they threaten to overwhelm the strong skull element.