“musée d’ethnographie de Genève”

A boomerang effect in Geneva

The MEG is dedicating an exhibition to the diversity and wealth of Australia’s arts. “L’Effet boomerang. Les arts aborigènes d’Australie”, thus offers insight into the colonisation of this country, from a political and aesthetic perspective. It was in 1770 that British explorer James Cook, acting as a representative of King George III, became the first Westerner to set foot on the Terra incognita, today known as Australia. Even if the land was already populated, the explorer still dubbed this territory as Terra nullius – “no man’s land”, an expression that says a great deal about the way indigenous people were long considered as a primitive society. However, the “material culture” developed by Australia’s 270 or so ethnicities over the 60,000 years in which they had inhabited the territory would whet the interest of Western travellers. Many European goods were exchanged for local fetishes, sometimes painlessly, for the Aborigines had the means to reproduce these artefacts easily. It was during this period that Australia became a “contact zone” between two worlds, two space-time bodies. In the Second Preface to Bajazet, Racine stated that “spatial distance may compensate for temporal proximity”. By discovering Australia, the West conquered the ends of the Earth, and made the acquaintance of a radical otherness, originally viewed according to an axiology riddled with prejudices pitting the primitive against the civilised or the natural against the social. What remained to be constructed were bridges between two territories but also across the centuries. Not exactly straightforward, as anthropologists Herbert Spencer and Francis James Gillen noted. For the Aborigines, the time of individuals is integrated into the notion of the Dreaming or the Dreamtime, a poetic expression coined by anthropologist Francis James Gillen to describe the pervasive mythology of humans meeting their ancestors during ritual ceremonies. From an aboriginal...

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The mind of the forest and Western amnesia

Until 8 January 2017, the Musée d’Ethnographie de Genève is playing host to “Amazonia, The Shaman and the Mind of the Forest”. An ethnographic exhibition that can also be described as…  a political act. Amazonia remains a poor relative in the world of art exhibitions and ethnography. Preference goes to Pre-Columbian art, Mayan, Aztec or Incan cultures — all far more likely to get crowds through the doors. In recent years, exhibitions in Europe on Amazonia can be counted on the fingers of one hand — the British Museum in 2001, the Mona Bismarck Foundation in 2002 or the Grand Palais in 2005, to name the most important ones. “I want to stir things up, heuristically speaking,” exclaims Boris Wastiau, director of the Musée d’Ethnographie de Genève (MEG) and curator of the exhibition. “Amazonia, The Shaman and the Mind of the Forest” sets out to get things moving and offer reparation for an injustice. What will we find at this exhibition in Geneva? An introduction to the region, which blends voices from the present day to those which have marked its History. Portraits — by Daniel Schweizer — of caciques and shamans, such as Raoni Metuktire, who have done so much towards preserving the Amazonian forest and indigenous culture, stand alongside maps, documents and other more archaeological objects. Further off, displays show tools used by shamans to pierce through the planet’s veil and to penetrate the invisible: psychotropic drugs, flutes and outfits donned for their dances. Finally, the exhibition takes visitors on a voyage to different Amazonian ethnic groups making up the region, including the Kayapos, the Bororos and the Karajas. Flamboyant adornments, masks, crowns and diadems bring colour to the displays, fashioned from mother-of-pearl, plant fibres and feathers. Lots of feathers, in a myriad of bright, vivid colours. Meanwhile,...

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Geneva presents “C’est de l’homme que j’ai à parler, Rousseau et l’inégalité”

Geneva, 20 August 2012, Art Media Agency (AMA). Up until 23 June 2013, the musée d’ethnographie de Genève will be hosting the exhibition “C’est de l’homme que j’ai à parler, Rousseau et l’inégalité” which is based on French philosopher Jean-Jacques Rousseau’s Discourse on the Origin and Basis of Inequality Among Men (Discours sur l’origine et les fondements de l’inégalité parmi les hommes). Considered, according to Levi-Strauss, as a precursor of modern anthropology and ethnology, Rousseau introduced a new point of view on human nature and life in society with this revolutionary work. Evoking the social hierarchy of Genevan society, the exhibition puts “Rousseau in resonance with his contemporaries and with our investigations of the present, taking us on a trip from Geneva to the Pacific islands, passing through the Alps and the Orient”, as stated in the press release. “One who reflects on inequalities—social inequalities or inequalities among peoples—his or her response is more relevant than ever”. Rousseau once said: “you are lost if you forget that the fruit belongs to everyone and that the earth belongs to no...

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