"Images for thinking the Other "

"Images for thinking the Other : From Exploration to the 1931 Colonial Exhibition”

A didactic website by Musée du Quai Branly: modules.quaibranly.fr/e-malette/

Musée du Quai Branly, Paris, France

A Cross-cultural Forum


A few weeks ago, I decided to take advantage of a stay in Paris to visit one of the most important museums in France , though it is still a newborn. But I discovered much more than a museum: actually it could be considered as a cross-cultural forum, not only because of its collections and exhibitions (such as “Planète métisse”) but also an educational and research centre, and public living space all in one. Back home in Aix, I looked at the museum’s main website (quaibranly.fr) and, as it usually goes with the web, I strolled around… And after a while I hit on the right page, that is to say the museum’s didactic website.

Beyond a surprising neologism, the “e-mallette” learning kit can turn into a treasure box for everyone interested in arts and history, civilisations and cultural heritages. While the museum is aimed at showing “how major a role art plays in everyday life” in all four corners of the world - Africa, Asia, Oceania and America - this website addresses the task of learning to respect each other by using a lot of historical counterexamples.




alaffiche-siecle-jazzAs you can see above, the site’s presentation is very attractive, well illustrated with paintings and photographs (the central oil by Marie Caire-Tonoir represents a Berber woman at the end of the 19th century). Indeed the site was designed by a seasoned professional agency in "visual creation", which has already worked for other major cultural institutions in Paris, such as the Opera or the Louvre Museum . That may be why I could not find anything to criticise about the form. On the contrary, I think some of their ideas might inspire other web administrators… Below is my favourite page: it is a virtual visit to the 1931 colonial exhibition. Thanks to a contemporary map, each visitor can select the pavilion and thus the country from which he or she wants to see a range of pieces. Go and try!



Every picture comes with a brief caption and then a whole commentary, which situates it within its artistic and political context.

The project consists in providing a pedagogical tool for French teachers, from primary school to high school. The message, which is clearly expressed, is to promote cultural diversity by questioning collective representations concerning other civilisations. The original focus is to show how arts and human sciences like ethnography and anthropology became tools used by pro-colonisation regimes. However, it also underlines some reactions of opposition by artists and intellectuals.



quai_b_masquesEach subject is made up of an historical presentation (two pages in general), a corpus of documents (pictures and commentaries) and pedagogical tools. For instance, an exercise is entitled “The birth of prejudice”. The idea is to have the pupils compose a list of idiomatic expressions which convey stereotypes, such as “C'est du chinois” or “Tête de turc” ! Then some historical work is undertaken about their origins. Last but not least, the children are expected to imagine positive expressions to replace the negative ones. This task is a good example of the orientation of the whole site, which is a kind of lesson in civics.


But you can find links for many other subjects: history, literature, art history, etc. Big bibliographies provide references for a large range of books, including novels and comics, movies – works of fiction and documentaries –, musical pieces from popular songs to operas, paintings, sculptures, etc. The bank of web links seem to be very interesting to for ex., “L’Histoire par l’image” (by the Réunion des Musées nationaux) www.histoire-image.org



In this way, I think every teacher, whatever his discipline may be, can find something interesting to have discussed in his class.

To conclude, I was really impressed by this website, and not only at first sight. The contents are equally impressive in design and in content quality. It excellently explains how the collective image of “primitive arts” has evolved to the point that we now call them “non-Western arts”. This tool partakes of the Quai Branly’s worthy ambition to “bring official recognition to the place occupied by civilisations and cultural heritages of peoples often set apart from the global culture of today”.