Indigenous? Non-Western? Primitive? The Paris Museum Controversy
Musee Quai Branly, a new major museum in Paris, dedicated entirely to well, how should it be called "non-Western arts"?, "indigenous arts?" has opened last Friday. Although the organizers named the new museum in Paris after the street it was built on after stirring criticism for floating the idea of a "primitive arts" or "first arts" museum, we read news headlines like "Paris unveils tribal art museum" (BBC), Paris welcomes new museum of indigenous art (Financial Times), and the Los Angeles Times informs: Parisians and tourists had their first chance Friday to visit Paris' new primitive-art museum
Why do we need such a huge museum for non-European art?
"We want to show that this type of art is equivalent to European art. We want to place it on the same level", said Patrice Januel, the museum's director and curator.
But many people oppose the idea of categorising African, Asian and Pacific art as separate from Western art, according to the Telegraph:
Criticism ranges from claims that an institute dedicated to ethnic art is a patronising reinforcement of racist stereotypes to complaints that it relies heavily on items plundered in the ex-colonies. Some historians also suggest that the museum could "ghettoise" the works by isolating them from other art forms. (...) Among African observers, doubts persist. One Johannesburg critic said the museum would prompt bitter cries of "return the pillaged colonial loot".
The museum is designed around a jungle theme. This design risked perpetuating colonial stereotypes, historian Gilles Manceron said according to The Guardian. It's quite "natural" inside as well.
The New Zealand Harald describes the interior:
Inside, the sensation is of spirituality, with random shimmerings of light dappling the floor like sunbeams that pierce a rainforest canopy. The floor gently slopes, and the pillars are daubed in ochre coatings to make it look as if they have strangely taken root there.
Objects are arranged according to the continent of origin.
Patrick Lozes, president of an umbrella group of several hundred black associations called Cran, said he feared the new museum's "archaic way of showing the past" would accentuate divisions rather than heal them, according to the New Zealand Harald:
"It's an extension of a certain colonialist vision. Today we should emphasis migration and the mixing of people and not try to artificially separate the various strands of French society."
The Courier Mail (Australia) on the otherhand writes about indigenous artists who are quite positive about the museum. The contribution to a wing of the Musee Quai Branly might be the largest and most significant permanent display of indigenous art outside Australia. Artist Gulumbu Yunupingu says:
"This place is a sacred place. I feel something here. It's bringing us healing. These people recognised my hand, my work."
Ap /Los Angeles Times reminds us:
Issues about France's colonial past are still sensitive here — just last year, parliament passed a law requiring schoolbooks to highlight the "positive role" of French colonialism. The term was later stripped from the legislation, but the law was an embarrassment for France.
Or rather start here:
A good summary: Al-Ahram Weekly: Museum of the oppressed