Unpacking the Collection

Part of the series One World Archaeology pp 141-163


The Bekom Mask and the White Star: The Fate of Others’ Objects at the Musée du quai Branly, Paris

  • Alexandra Loumpet-GalitzineAffiliated withUniversity of YaoundeAsia-Pacific Network, CNRS-FMSH Email author 

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This chapter focuses on the visual remaking of emblematic objects from museums of primitive art by advertising campaigns, with particular reference to posters for the Musée du quai Branly in Paris. As museums have increasingly delegated advertising to commercial agencies, the image of ‘Other’s’ objects constitutes a new arena of translation. These objects, and the ideas generated by them, emerge as important foci for understanding the structuring of various gazes, and the authority and manipulative power of the museum. An analysis of the representations of a helmet mask from the microstate of Kom in West Cameroon Grasslands, now housed in the Musée du quai Branly, exemplifies the metamorphosis of meanings and virtues of Others’ objects, their symbolic location, growing personalization and potential for transformation, as well as the ambiguous position which contemporary museums assume in relation to them. The effects of advertising are explored through the notions of ‘ravissement’ (in French meaning both capture and enchantment) and ‘exile’ of objects.