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La Fabrique des Images at Quai Branly

Pouppe Text: Brendan Seibel
Image: Kachina hopi doll

For an education in art appreciation stop by Musée Quai Branly's special exhibition La Fabrique des Images. Curated by social sciences professor Philippe Descola, this collection of folk art presents an anthropological study of people's perceptions of belonging in the world and the relationships between man and beast. Arranged in ontological clusters and bolstered with simple information, the highly illustrative show will spark discussion and contemplation amongst audiences of all ages.

The basic tenet of Descola's curation is that human expression can be broadly divided into four forms: Animism, still typical in Japan with shared origins amongst polar and South American tribes; Naturalism, a Northern European form which was born amidst the Renaissance; Totemism, unique to the aboriginal people of Australia; Analogism, popular throughout Southeast Asia, the Americas and Africa. The exhibition's antechamber presents bilingual introductions to each of the four forms, augmented by an example.

Animism is the belief that all living things contain anthropomorphic spiritual existences transcending physical differences. To express this duality ancient people, best represented by the native Alaskans, constructed intricate masks revealing inner beings hidden behind the outer visage. Woodworks and ivory carvings acted to relate people with their animal brethren, as did the animalistic accoutrements on display. Somewhat related are examples of woven grass spirit masks, tying the living into the world of departed ancestors and small gods. The assorted artifacts are impressive on their own, but presented together they create a fascinating display of interrelationships between disparate cultures.

Moving through time and place the Naturalism movement is presented with a small collection of paintings and prints. During the later Renaissance artists, particularly Dutch painters, began to highlight the inner consciousness of their subjects to emphasize the individual spirit, not the physical shell, as what defines a person. Marinus van Reymerswaeles' devilish Two Tax Collectors perfects the incongruities between inner and outer beauty, while landscapes reveal the artists' refinement of capturing the world that surrounds us while unearthing the hidden realities of people.

The most frustrating of the four ontologies on display is Totemism, which divides man and beast not by earthly concepts but by their relationship to ancestral Beings of Dreamtime. Typified by bark paintings of animals the style is similar to other forms of early creation, but the link between these works and the spiritual world eludes understanding. More maddening is the new school of aboriginal art, acrylic dot painting, that recreates landscapes from dreams. These massive works, similar to Tibetan sand mandalas, are beautiful in their rhythm but dangerous for anyone easily lost to contemplation.

Wrapping up the classroom experience is the broad world of Analogism, a belief that all beings are distinct both physically and spiritually. Confronting the visitor is a stunning wooden Fishman from Benin. Representing the idea of chimera, a being comprised of various animals, the concept remains a popular horror movie trope. From the Hopi tribe of America comes a collection of puppets, each representing a spiritual liaison with characteristics borrowed from more earthbound beings.  The exhibition's claim is that analogists sought order in a chaotic world by either finding analogies between people and animals
or hierarchical orders. Between the demonic Sri Lankan exorcism mask and the insanely complex (with its own interpretive video display) Mexican yarn-painting by José Benítez Sánchez, Tibetan power charts and Chinese porcelain miniatures it becomes clear that the world of analogism in a vast and untamed one, possibly creating more chaos than it explains.

Those who would like to test what they've learned will have an opportunity to try their hand at comparison studies between the four subsets. Others can proceed to the quiet grounds of Quai Branly to carry on their discussion of expression, belief, and where we belong in the natural and supernatural worlds.

La Fabrique des Image
From now until 17 July 2024
8,50€/6€ Reduced
Tuesday, Wednesday and Sunday 11:00-19:00
Thursday to Saturday 11:00-21:00
Musée Quai Branly
37 Quai Branly
Mº Alma Marceau

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