Since January 30th 2018 and until January 6th 2019, the Musée du Quai Branly in Paris presents for the first time its collections from the Colonial time period. The exhibition Paintings from Afar addresses themes such as exoticism and Orientalism in painting but also shines a new light on the fantasized, altered, realistic, condescending and sometimes cruel image Artists and their contemporaries had about the colonial empires. Art-Trope visited the exhibition.
A disturbing collection
The 220 Artworks exhibited as part of Paintings from Afar are extracted from the Musée du Quai Branly‘s collections that have been kept from the audience for a long time. Indeed, it shows the multi-faceted artistic visions of the colonial period between 1830 and 1930. The goal of the exhibition is to enable the public to tell the difference between fantasies and propaganda through a collection of diverse Artworks, different in their formats and meanings. The original collection from which were selected the 220 Artworks was put together in 1931 on the occasion of the Colonial Exhibition taking place the same year. In fact, the Palais de la Porte-Dorée in Paris, built for the occasion, used to host the collection. It is now the Museum of History of Immigration. The collection came to the Musée du Quai Branly – Jacques Chirac in 2003.
From dreams to reality
The exhibition’s scenography is like a mirage. Indeed, the first Artworks give an important space to exoticism and Orientalism. The Artists at the time, fascinated by their travels, painted harbors and luxuriant jungles in idealistic and mysterious ways. For instance, Prosper Marilhat artificially assembled mosques in a painting entitled “Mosque in Low Egypt”. Little by little, the mirage wares off and soon comes the cold and cruel reality of colonial conquests. In fact, the more the exhibition gets closer to the 30s, the more the image becomes ethnographic and sympathetic. Therefore, several propaganda Artworks from the French State on the occasion of the 1931 Colonial Exhibition show off the undergoing constructions in these territories. As a result, Sarah Ligner, the Exhibition’s Curator said to Beaux-Arts Magazine: “what these paintings don’t say is that thousands of men died in terrible conditions, exploited on construction sites.”
Fighting against the clichés
The exhibition is particularly keen on laying the emphasis on the supremacy of numerous stereotypes of the time period. In fact, the idea is to question our own current perceptions about a time period that is over and yet recent in respect of human history.”More than half a century after decolonization, it is necessary to observe attentively these Artworks and to uncover their invisible aspects made of stereotypes, unthinkable, distortion, and denial” explained Stéphane Martin, President of the Musée du Quai Branly. Even though the exhibited Artworks are not major pieces of Art, the stories they tell have a powerful reflective capacity. Although there are a few Artworks from Artist Paul Gaugin, the majority of his contemporaries presented in the exhibition did not make history. Therefore, such a collection has more of a historic value rather than an aesthetic one even though some treasures can be found here and there.
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Source: Beaux-Arts Magazine