MASTERS OF DISORDER, the forces at work in the world around us (especially my bedroom), unseen and unheard by all except those few who can divine their want and will. These are the ‘shamans’, or other spiritual leaders, who mediate between the real and spirit worlds, trying to make sense of the ‘disorder’ around us, mystically communicating with the ethereal and “negotiating with the forces of chaos”. The musée du quai Branly has put on an impressive multisensory display of these religious men from a number of tribes around the world that are still in existence today, with many anthropological ‘finds’ (or plunders) accompanied with work by current artists.
It is a welcome opportunity to celebrate what remains of these cultures’ diverse religious and spiritual beliefs, although it is a shame to see that there doesn’t seem to be any acknowledgement of France’s historical involvement in their previous colonisation of these societies. These ‘colonisation deniers’ would like to forget about France’s centuries-long ‘civilising mission’, notably in Africa, whereby “Africans who adopted French culture, including fluent use of the French language and conversion to Christianity,” were rewarded for their efforts with French citizenship and suffrage. Whilst this carrot-not-stick method was preferable to torture, slavery, murder and atrocities, it was still a dark chapter in the history of France, which still overshadows the country and its international relations today.
I’m not asking for an exhibition dedicated to the exploitation of Africa, I just believe that it is hypocritical for a country to celebrate the longevity of belief systems that it was initially instrumental in disrupting, without acknowledgement or apology for the fact.
If I were to choose a subheading to compliment the exhibition title ‘Masters of Disorder’, ‘France’s direct rule in Africa’ would be a good contender.
Leave your Western ideas of spirituality to one side and explore the world of shamanism at the Musée du Quai Branly’s exhibition Les Maîtres du désordre, from 11 April to 29 July 2012, or read about pre‑colonial African Art with this beautifully illustrated ebook.