Abstract This article examines the French Musée du quai Branly (MDQB) as a cultural and rhetorical site that communicates a vision of French-ness, contrasted by a particular memory of Otherness. I argue that the materiality of MDQB that officially promotes “cultural dialogues” exoticizes the Other as inferior to the French and invites a colonial gaze on the majority of the cultures of the world. This then indirectly reaffirms and revitalizes French colonialism, and radicalizes dialogue between the French and Others. Having analyzed the museum’s multifaceted materiality in three categories (politics of location, representation, and pedagogy), I explore cultural and political implications of this site of public memory, and locate it in the current politically- and culturally-turbulent climate of France and Europe. We penetrated deeper and deeper into the heart of darkness (…) It was unearthly, and the men were—No, they were not inhuman (…) They howled and leaped, and spun, and made horrid faces; but what thrilled you was just the thought of their humanity—like yours—the thought of your remote kinship with this wild and passionate uproar. (Joseph Conrad, The Heart of Darkness) People think of Paris as the city of love and the city of light, but where you’ve got love you’ve got hate, and where you got light you got darkness. (Mathieu Kassovitz) In 2017, Parisian Musée du quai Branly (MDQB) celebrates its 11th anniversary. Following the tradition of French presidents building museums as monuments to their time in office (e.g., Centre Georges Pompidou by Pompidou, Musée d’Orsay by d’Estaing, Grande Louvre by Mitterrand), MDQB was brought to completion by President Jacques Chirac. Many in France remember Chirac as the man they chose to defeat the far-right leader Jean-Marie Le Pen at the 2002 presidential election, and a passionate admirer of non-European art (BBC, 2011, December 15). In 1990, Chirac met Jacques Kerchache, a “primitive art” collector. They became friends and began laying plans for a new museum (Price, 2007). In 1996, Chirac approved the creation of a museum dedicated to the arts and civilizations of the world. In 1999, the design project proposed by architect Jean Nouvel was selected and construction began (MDQB’s official website, http://www.quaibranly.fr/en/). MDQB opened in 2006, being the newest of the major museums in Paris. It receives around 1.3 million visitors every year. Located in the vicinity of the Eiffel Tower—arguably the most well-known material artifact of la grande nation—the heritage museum is colloquially called Le Musée des Autres [the Museum of the Others], displaying indigenous art of Africa, Asia, Oceania, and the Americas. The museum collection has 450,000 objects, of which 3,500 are on display at any given time. The MDQB complex has four buildings, occupying 30,000 square meters along with a garden, and it cost €233 million to construct. Although the official logo of MDQB reads là où dialoguent les cultures [there where cultures are dialoguing]; the large, exteriorly and interiorly dark black-and-red heart of mélange culturelle is hardly known to the world. I analyze MDQB as a cultural and rhetorical site that communicates a particular memory of Otherness contrasted by a certain vision of French-ness. I refer to French-ness as a concept, which traditionally implies immense national pride of a former colonial power, whose imperial possessions once extended to the remotest corners of the world. Often nicknamed as la Grande Nation (the Grand/Great Nation), France takes great pride in its impressive cultural heritage; philosophical, educational, political, and artistic legacies of the Enlightenment; liberating ideals of the French Revolution, as well as world-famous realms of haute cuisine and haute couture—in short, human civilization at its finest. I argue that the materiality of MDQB that officially promotes “cultural dialogues,” contributes to exoticizing the Other as inferior compared to the concept of French-ness, and invites a colonial gaze on other cultures of the world, reaffirming and revitalizing French colonialism and radicalizing the dialogues between the French and the Others. Specifically, I concentrate on the following analytical categories: (a) The building: salience of its location, visual and aural effects, (b) The Other/ed WoMen: representation of masculinity and femininity of the Other, and (c) Dialogues between materiality and people: Pedagogy, message, and affect. Having analyzed the museum’s multifaceted materiality, I will explore the implications of this site of public memory for the contemporary French understanding of Selves and Others, and locate it in the current politically- and culturally-turbulent climate of France. Memory, materiality, othering, and affect revisited Memory, materiality, othering, and affect are at the core of (inter)cultural and rhetorical studies, as demonstrated by the following scholarship that informed the multifaceted theoretical framework of the present project. First of all, history and cultural memory are never entirely objective but fluid and highly selective instead, with the aforementioned fluidity and selectivity serving dominant ideologies of a given geo-political context (Assmann, 2006, 2011; Erll, 2011; Koselleck, 2004; Winter, 2006). Different cultures remember history differently from one another, resulting in the fact that “we lack a history of a formula historia magistra vitae” (Koselleck, 2004; p. 24). We must, therefore, pay attention to what exactly is selected as salient and worth remembering. Winter (2006) focuses on practices of “active remembrance” or “collages of memory,” the construction of which includes activation of material, literary, and mediated rhetoric, in which individuals negotiate the distance between history and memory. For Winter, collective remembrance is a matter of conscious activity, subjective and selective in nature—in which those “collages,” or fragments of history, are carefully and strategically selected for a specific ideological purpose or a certain national agenda. (Examples of such “collages” in French context often exclude controversial pages of national history that shed an unfavorable light on la Grande Nation, such as the French collaboration with Nazi Germany under the Vichy regime, for example). Winter’s approach is in line with Assmann’s (2006, 2011) interpretation of memory as actively constructed out of rhetorical pieces, and crucial for identity formation: Institutions and larger social groups, such as nations, states (…) do not “have” a memory; they “make” one for themselves with the aid of memorial signs such as symbols, texts, images, rites, ceremonies, places, and monuments. Together with such a memory, these groups and institutions “construct” an identity. Such a memory is based on selection and exclusion, neatly separating useful from not useful, and relevant from irrelevant memories. (2006, p. 216) The past is not simply reproduced, it constitutes itself selectively in each succeeding generation through forgetting and conscious remembering. It forms a strong national and cultural identity and it is often contained, created, and negotiated in what Nora (1989) defines as les lieux de mémoire [places of memory] that serve as bridges between memory and history. Strong emphasis not only on what is remembered and forgotten, but also on where, how and why is focal to the scholarly literature dedicated to space and place. Places of memory are both reflective and productive of the dominant cultural trends of the time (Bennett, 2013; Chevrette & Hess, 2015; Dickinson, Blair, & Ott, 2010; Dickinson, Ott, & Aoki, 2005, 2006; Katriel, 1994; King, 2006, 2014; Nora, 1989). Among various lieux de mémoire, museums have proven excellent mediums of creating and transmitting memories and messages, rewriting histories, and negotiating existing and emerging interculturalities. Bennett’s (2013) work is particularly insightful for understanding intersections between museums’ formation, history, politics, and cultural studies. He suggests that public museums exemplify the development of a new “governmental” relation to culture: “Museums form a part of new strategies of governing aimed at producing a citizenry which, rather than needing to be externally and coercively directed, would increasingly monitor and regulate its own conduct” (p. 8). Price’s examination of Parisian museums provides specific evidence for Bennett’s arguments: Museums in France are solidly under the thumb of the State. National museums are institutions of the State (…) The principle governing body for French museums, the Direction des Musées de France [French Museums Board] of DMF, part of the Ministry of Culture, has traditionally payed a determining role in the creation and functioning of major museums. Not a single piece can be purchased, sold, exchanged, or even accepted as a gift without the approval of Ministry of Culture. (2007, p. 23) Bennett (2013) interprets such phenomenon as an institutionalized strategy of exercising disciplinary power, crafting citizenry, and re-confirming cultural hegemony, and emphasizes how the museum serves as a “nursery of living thought” (p. 24) for the audience. Similarly, Davis (2013), Hasian (2004), Mancino (2015), McAlister (2013) and Valdeón (2015) investigate how museum practices are influenced by and are reflective of social forces and national agendas. Chevrette and Hess (2015), Dickinson et al. (2005, 2006), Katriel (1994), and King (2006, 2014) provide insightful evidence for the aforementioned claims by investigating heritage museums, which center cultural (often synonymized with ethnic) heritage of various populations, and explore the complexity of relationships between nations’ Selves and Others. Academic scholarship on the representation of cultural Others (in relation to the exhibiting Selves), the process of cultural Othering per se, and the emotional as well as political outcomes of cultural Othering constitute the third pillar of the theoretical framework. Historically, dichotomizing Others has served as a powerful strategy of creation, justification, and normalization of various social inequalities, synonymous with colonialism, racism, elitism, sexism, and other oppressive ‘isms’ of the Western worldview (Ahmed, 2000, 2010, 2014; Bhabha, 1994; Fanon, 2008; Lorde, 1984; Mohanty, 2003; Spivak, 1988). Work by Frantz Fanon (2008) on the psychology of racism, the dehumanization of a black body, and the legacy of colonialism, together with Spivak’s (1988) examination of colonial elitism and subaltern subjects, are central for understanding re-occurring yet lesser-studied issues of the representation of Others. Ahmed (2000, 2010, 2014) adds that not only learning and eventually knowing the Others, but also experiencing strong emotions about them, is political. Instead of asking what emotions are, Ahmed examines what they do, and provides a convincing study of how emotions historically served as “sticking points” for historians, politicians, cultural theorists, psychologists, and sociologists, and how emotions eventually formed the exiting zeitgeist with respect to Self and Other. Importantly, Ahmed brings the politics of emotions to a meta/national level, crucial for examining heritage museums like that of MDQB: “To feel love for the nation, whereby love is an investment that should be returned, is also to feel injured by those others, who are ‘taking’ what is yours” (Ahmed, 2014, p. 3). Finally, many scholars suggest that although the Other in heritage museums is constructed as a dangerous, inassimilable subject of Western imagination as a result of colonial legacy, s/he is still interpreted as authentic—which in itself constitutes a salient part of Western pedagogy. King (2006) specifies that in such museums, things appear authentic not because they are inherently and truly authentic, but because they are constructed as such in terms of points of worldviews, as they cater to certain images within Western consciousness about how the Other is imagined to be. King’s later work is particularly insightful: Museums themselves are institutions born out of colonial framework and were developed in part as sites for displays of lands and peoples outside of Europe whose need for “civilization” was catalogued within their exhibits, i.e., the exhibit and its displayed artifacts and bodies collected through the process of colonizing Indigenous peoples became working evidence of the continued need for colonization. (2014, p. 45) I aim to demonstrate that MDQB is one of these institutions, born out of French colonial framework, whose lasting impact on the contemporary French understanding of Self and Other is significantly understudied in communication studies. A critical cultural analysis of the museum’s complex materiality—ranging from the building, the politics of location, visual and aural effects, to representation of and interaction among historical and contemporary bodies in space—is the research focus of this project. With it, I hope to contribute to closing the aforementioned gap in communication scholarship, and enrich the literature on today’s post-colonial interculturality, necessary to be revisited in the turbulent political environment in Europe, starkly problematized by the difficult relations and frequent miscommunication between various cultural Selves and Others. The building: salience of the location, visual and aural effects The first three significant characteristics of MDQB from the outside are its central location in the very heart of the city; its grave building, contrasted by the view of arguably the most representative Parisian sight—the Eiffel Tower; and its two dominant colors of red and black (Figure 1). Paradoxically, the centrality of the museum’s location does not increase either its visibility or its popularity, precisely because the Eiffel Tower is “stealing the show.” MDQB is literally located “in the shadow of the Eiffel Tower” (Price, 2007, p. 11). Being one of the tallest structures in Paris, nicknamed la grande dame de fer [the grand iron lady], the Eiffel Tower is the most clichéd and recognizable symbol of the city of lights. Well-lit and celebratory-sparkly at night, with the finest restaurant on top, and a champagne bar with a breathtaking view over the city, the Eiffel Tower is the “it” destination for millions of tourists from France and the rest of the world. It is a famous stop for the boat tours along the Seine; it is clearly marked on the metro and bus maps; and it has the proudest history of expression of Frenchness (including Edit Piaf’s performance of Non, je ne regrette rien!). Other famous sights in the direct vicinity of MDQB are Les Invalides, attracting with their rich history, a graceful building, the tomb of Napoleon, and an elegant golden cupola; as well as Museum of Modern Arts, Grande Palais, and Palais de la Découverte right across the Seine. Relatively “young,” dark, and unspectacular from the outside, MDQB cannot compete with the numerous well-known sights of Paris. Figure 1 View largeDownload slide MDQB. Figure 1 View largeDownload slide MDQB. Literally and metaphorically, MDQB is overshadowed by a great multitude of Parisian sights, rich in proud history, with elegant and lavish architecture, known and admired worldwide. Two facts are particularly significant about the architecture of the museum. The first is that, according to MDQB’s official website, it is located “at the foot of the Eiffel Tower” and “out of respect for the surrounding area, the museum stands no taller than the neighboring buildings,” being difficult to see. From a critical cultural perspective, the implication of intentional invisibility of the museum of the Others compared to the long-established and highly visible materiality of Frenchness is undeniable. The second fact is it is the official mission of MDQB “to celebrate the creative genius of non-Western cultures, making it the very opposite of an ivory tower of academia” (MDQB official website, http://www.quaibranly.fr/en/), architecturally expressed through deliberate differences with the rest of the grandiose museums, which are mostly in white marble, embellished with sophisticated sculptures, and often finished with whiny golden cupolas. Almost to add to the contrast with the rest of the materiality in the city of light, MDQB has most simplistic, almost rustic architecture, with black, grey, and dark red as its main colors. It does not quite fit in, it looks foreign, it is Paris’ own architectural Other. Moreover, unlike any other museum in Paris, it has a vertical garden: “a wall of plants covers the 800m2 of the façade running alongside the Quai Branly in luxurious greenery” (MDQB official website, http://www.quaibranly.fr/en/), designed to make MDQB look non-Western: “Gilles Clément’s design represents a deliberate attempt to break with the rational order of the Western tradition” (MDQB official website, http://www.quaibranly.fr/en/). Emotionally, the feeling of foreignness of the museum is only intensified through the hanging gardens, a symbolic jungle of nature’s primitivism, deliberatively created in opposition to the Western rationality as a particular lens of looking at the Other. That sense of difference is fortified upon the entry into the museum—which in itself is a strange phenomenological experience of entering into what Joseph Conrad would describe as “the heart of darkness.” Regardless of the weather outside of the building, its inside is strangely, uncomfortably dark (with scarce windows, covered from the outside by the greenery, which simultaneously steals natural light and intensifies the sensation of being in the actual jungle). Black-and-red walls combined with dimmed lights create a feeling of being in a dark cave where time stands still. This sensation is especially significant, considering the stark contrast with the rest of the city of light—literally and symbolically, since the idea of light is inseparable from the philosophically, scientifically, artistically, and culturally progressive period of European history, known as Enlightenment. While claiming to be the place of dialogue with cultural Others, MDQB’s uniquely and uncomfortably dark materiality creates phenomenological sensation of uncivilized, savage inferiority of Otherness, representative of imperialism and invitational of discrimination indigenous peoples are confronting even now as an outcome of the Enlightenment doctrine; when the enlightened—aka the civilized—provided the spirit, the stimulus, the confidence, and the political and economic structures that facilitated colonization of the dark world. “The long history concerning Euro-American-style museums and their depictions of non-Euro-American, minority, and Indigenous communities bears a legacy of problems, as museums have typically interpreted these communities through an exclusively Euro-American worldview” (King, 2014, p. 43). Similarly, the Eurocentric vision of the world of the Other, represented in MDQB, is synonymous with the uncomfortable realm of darkness and skillfully communicated through MDQBs official mission and original architecture. In addition to the light, aural and linguistic elements further construct the dichotomy between the Self and Other. “The River”—a light-projected, computer-generated moving stream of words in a variety of indigenous languages—flows down the winding ramp that leads from the entrance of the museum to the main galleries (Figure 2). The ramp is the only entry to the museum, which means that immediately upon entry, the visitors are forced to walk over a myriad of Other languages before they reach the galleries. In the galleries, on the contrary, the exhibition descriptions are predominantly in French, with only very few major exhibits translated into English. No “original languages” of those, whose art and ways of life are exhibited, are presented, with the controversial exception of the ramp light projections. “(Non-)translation is not merely a metaphor for the processes that lie behind language in promoting interaction between displays and their public audience, it is also a metaphor for the imposition of a certain representation of reality, where a dominant ideology selects and arranges material to perpetuate official narratives” (Valdeón, 2015, p. 374). An exclusively French narrative, in case of MDQB. Non-surprisingly, over the course of a two-week observation, the only language I hear at the museum is French, unlike in the Louvre or at the Eiffel Tower, for example, that represent a true linguistic mélange. With a specific mono-lingual view of the Others, MDGB manifests itself as a mono-cultural ultra-French museum. “(Re-)defining Indigenous histories as knowable only through Western frameworks serves as a technology of governance through its regulation of cultural discourses about the past” (Chevrette & Hess, 2015, p. 141), and MDQB follows suit. Figure 2 View largeDownload slide The River. Figure 2 View largeDownload slide The River. Finally, the logo of the museum, là où dialoguent les cultures [where cultures are dialoguing]—appears problematic precisely because there is no cultural dialogue, present in the museum. Instead, the visitor hears a French monologue about the Other. Museums frequently reflect national agendas and are used as tools to shape national identity, and demonstrate how much effort is placed on strategic campaigns around museums, claiming to include citizens and specific stakeholders in a democratic process while in fact they embrace “Great Man/Great Deeds” vision of history (Aronczyk & Brady, 2015, p. 167). In case of MDQB, a great (French) man, Jacques Chirac, had a vision he expressed in his official address at the museum’s inauguration: “To communicate the eminent value of these different cultures, many of which are under threat,” and “to create an original space which does justice to the infinite diversity of human culture, a place which offers a new perspective on the achievements of the peoples and civilizations of Africa, Asia, Oceania and the Americas” (cited on the MDQB official website, http://www.quaibranly.fr/en/). Sadly, there is little novelty in MDQB’s perspective on the cultures of Others: the great French initiative to honor world diversity produces the same Eurocentric Master narrative with a very specific perception of the Other, informed by centuries of French colonialism. “The importance of these novel museums (…) comes from their ability to recycle some of the visual arguments (…) in order to help create and shape the collective memories of those who live in the present” (Hasian, 2004, p. 70). By recycling the French version of history of colonialism as a dichotomy between the enlightened Eurocentric Self and the dark Other—the savage, the sub-human—MDQB reconfirms and reanimates French colonial gaze. This Self versus Other dichotomy is further intensified through a strategic representation of Other WoMen: masculinities and femininities in MDQB as reflective of imperialistic nostalgia, rooted in a particular colonial desire/interpellation of a gendered Other. Other/ed woMen: representation of masculinity and femininity of the Other Representations discursively constitute and reproduce meanings and subject positions, with which we identify (Hall, 1996; Woodward, 1997). Upon entry into the darkness, the observer is surrounded by half- or fully-naked, aggressive in appearance statues that evoke one picture in the viewer’ minds: that of wild savages (Figure 3: “Male Statues”). Representation of humans in the museum is somewhere between “stranger-danger” and sub-human. “The stranger is produced as a category within knowledge, rather than coming into being in an absence of knowledge” (Ahmed, 2000, p. 55), and indeed—the countless representations of Others in the museum are constructed within French and European-at-large-(post-)colonial knowledge that intensified and justified the divide between the Colonizer and the Colonized. Importantly, regardless of the corners of the world, representation of masculinities had three striking similarities. The statues were mostly naked and appeared menacing in nature, often half-fused with animals; most of the artifacts accompanying figures and pictures were weapons and war masks; and most of the statues embodied phallocentricity. As a result of such representation, the Other was constructed and remembered as a primitive aggressive, and promiscuous savage, confirming the discriminatory dichotomy between the civilized Colonizer and the barbarian Colonized, central to the post-colonial critique (e.g., by Bhabha, 1994; Lorde, 1984; Mohanty, 2003). Although various scholars repeatedly criticized stereotypical representation, heritage museums like MDQB often implement such stereotypical dichotomy out of national nostalgia for la France as the cradle of civilization and humanity—the legacy of the country’s colonial past. Heritage museums always express the demand for certain forms of representing the past, forms that are appropriate to the interest and values of dominant groups in the community: “The mode of representation constructs for the visitor a position of achieved humanity, situated at the end of evolutionary development” (Bennett, 2013, p. 7). Following suit, MDQB displayed an impressive collection of artifacts, fitting the existing dichotomy of French civilized Selves, desiring and simultaneously fearing savage Others: Aggressive-looking and half-naked, located in the dark quasi-cave of the museum, covered by the jungle of the greenery, they looked barely human. Additionally, in different parts of the museum, one could watch documentaries about various tribes, depicting dark-skinned, quasi-naked warriors with spears, eager to fight (Figure 4). The warriors (men only) and the wilderness in the background created a strange sensation for the visitors—of a total spatial and chronological disorientation. Outside was the light of booming civilization of la Grande Nation; inside was a virtual journey into the dark and primitive world. Figure 3 View largeDownload slide Male statues. Figure 3 View largeDownload slide Male statues. Figure 4 View largeDownload slide Video. Figure 4 View largeDownload slide Video. This feeling was intensified by overabundance of weapons and war masks, which invited rethinking of men of/in other cultures as perpetuate warriors. Spears, arrows, bows, masks, tomahawks, they all were present, next to bright evil-looking war masks (Figures 5 and 6: “War Masks and Weapons”). Notably, the museum’s brochure promises indigenous art. However, by making war artifacts the central pieces of that art, MDQB suggests the synonymy of the lifestyle of the male Others with a perpetual state of war, and suggested a very particular version of masculinity of the Others as primitive and threatening. “Primitivism involves (…) imperialist nostalgia (…) national subjects and primitive objects” (Chevrette & Hess, 2015, p. 141). As the cradle of “primitive art,” MDQB does exactly that: French national subjects can see confirmation of their existing knowledge about the primitive subjects through knowledge, created and normalized in the Eurocentric framework. Lorde explains: Much of Western European history conditions us to see human differences in simplistic opposition to each other: dominant/subordinate, good/bad, up/down, superior/inferior (…) there must always be some group of people who, through systematized oppression, can be made to feel surplus, to occupy the place of dehumanized inferior. (1984, p. 114) Figures 5 View largeDownload slide War masks and weapons. Figures 5 View largeDownload slide War masks and weapons. Figure 6 View largeDownload slide War masks and weapons. Figure 6 View largeDownload slide War masks and weapons. MDQB provides a number of examples, intensifying the dichotomy. Such tendency is prominent in many similar museums that—with the best intentions of creating a dialogue with other cultures—(un)intentionally recreate the pre-existent colonial gaze. “The juxtaposition between present/past, civilized/primitive, us/them (…) contribute to the collective identities and non-belonging created within the museum by contrasting contemporary citizen-subjects against their temporal Others” (Chevrette & Hess, 2015, p. 147), while “employing a Western gaze (…) may accept unequal power relations as a given and therefore may overlook important dimensions of the cultural relationship, as well as the positive dimension of the Other” (Ono, 2010, p. 91). Such relationship of superiority of the French-subject versus Other-object is multifaceted. In addition to aggressiveness as the characteristic of Other/ed masculinity, MDQB adds the dimension of hyper-sexuality to it. An impressive number of male statues from different corners of the world are represented with disproportionally large and erected penises (Figure 7 and 8). Focus on phallocenricity as a norm of the male Other completes the picture of the wild warrior, the sub-human conqueror aka a threat to Western civilization. Sexuality has always been a regulatory cultural phenomenon, a salient mechanism of inclusion or exclusion. Sexuality, as suggested by Foucault (1990) is a privileged site of social organization, knowledge, identity, and “truth” in Western societies. Collins (2000) added that “sexuality constitutes one important site where heterosexism, race, nation, and gender as systems of oppression converge (…) because all systems of oppression rely on harnessing the power of the erotic” (p. 136). In MDQB, the erotic, exotic, and exhibitionistic collide, fused together with hyper-masculine, animalistic, wild, and male. Figure 7 View largeDownload slide Phallocentric figures. Figure 7 View largeDownload slide Phallocentric figures. Figure 8 View largeDownload slide Phallocentric figures. Figure 8 View largeDownload slide Phallocentric figures. Paradoxically, the hyper-sexuality in representation of materiality is a clearly masculine attribute. The representation of femininity of the Others at MDQB is drastically different in three ways: There is a disproportionally small number of female figures, their absence being representative of their insignificance for both the cultures of the Other and the MDQB consumers of those; A clear objectification of women on multiple levels, and dehumanization of women. The striking peculiarity of MDQB is its masculine focus. Female figures are barely present, and if so, only as mothers with children, as if the reproductive function is the only role women have in the society, to the point of almost palpable sensation of patriarchy at MDQB. Museums are sites of power, and “there has been a tendency among museologists to regard these institutions as an expression of hegemony of the modern nation state (…) and as a reflection of elite domination over their societies, including the groups they once controlled socially, politically, and economically as part of former colonial system” (Valdeón, 2015, p. 363). A common conceptualization women of Other cultures as oppressed, mono-dimensional if not primitive, and invisible is an integral part of the French cultural memory, and a highly problematic subject of interculturality of today, especially regarding Muslim women in France. Controversial intercultural debates range from discussions on the legality of wearing hijabs, niqabs, burkas, and burkinis, to the core principles of French culture, including that of laïcité. France is the nation of liberté, égalité, fraternité; a culture, whose national symbols include the most courageous and inspirational female role models, ranging from Jeanne d’Arc to Marianne (the symbol of French Revolution). Interestingly, the famous statue of Jeanne d’Arc—the gilded shiny symbol of Frenchness—is a short walk away from MDQB, whose dark world does not have place for women (Figure 9). On the contrary, in addition to the absence of female figures per se, MDQB offers artifacts, reminding the viewers that Other women are nothing more than objects of exchange and trade. A huge dowry chest (Figure 10) from Algeria is one of such artifacts. Curiously, although the process of giving a dowry is still normal in a variety of cultures around the world, MDQB chose to concentrate on the chest from Algeria. The choice is hardly surprising, given that the controversial interculturality of the French–Algerian war is one of the most recent colonial pages of French history that both nations are still coming to terms with. Narrowing down representation of Algerian culture to mainly that of a dowry chest (in addition to a few small vases and the actual wedding dress that complete the picture of domesticity) invites for interpretation of Algerian women as objectified and oppressed, lacking agency, and being morally inferior to the great female role models such as Marianne and Jeanne D’Arc. The effect of such representation is to construct Other “femininity” and Other “women” as the exotic, the primitive, the ahistorical, in a way which ultimately re-confirms imperialistic nostalgia, expressed in the simultaneous cultural superiority/arrogance towards and desire of the gendered Other. MDQB’s representation of Other/ed women communicates a profoundly Eurocentric and colonial nature of the museum. Figure 9 View largeDownload slide Statue of Jeanne d’Arc. Figure 9 View largeDownload slide Statue of Jeanne d’Arc. Figure 10 View largeDownload slide Dowry chest. Figure 10 View largeDownload slide Dowry chest. Interestingly, representation of Algeria as culturally inferior, as at MDQB, is a common pattern of French national discourse. Just outside of the museum, there is a monument to the French–Algerian war (Figure 11) that honors the French soldiers who lost their lives in Algeria, Tunisia, and Morocco between 1952 and 1962, fighting “pour la France” (like Jacques Chirac himself in 1954). The monument centers only French victimage and heroism, and sends two culturally problematic messages. The first message suggests that only French lives and their loss mattered in the war. The second message is even more problematic, as it glides over the fact that the French–Algerian war was an outcome of the French colonization of Algeria and other African countries. At night, the monument is even more visible and dramatic—as the three stone columns are well-lit in the traditional French tricolor (Figure 12). The city of light remembers its fallen heroes—the great French men—while the Others are forgotten, objectified, and/or dehumanized. Figure 11 View largeDownload slide French–Algerian War Memorial. Figure 11 View largeDownload slide French–Algerian War Memorial. Figure 12 View largeDownload slide French–Algerian War Memorial at night. Figure 12 View largeDownload slide French–Algerian War Memorial at night. Dehumanization is another repetitive pattern in representation of the Other women in MDQB. While many tools suggest that the Other men were warriors and hunters, many of the same tools are described as being equally used to obtain (and sometimes tame) either animals or women, suggesting bestiality of both and dehumanization of the latter. (Figure 13) The so-called “feather money” from Solomon Island in Melanesia (Oceania) is one of such pieces, used as a form of monetary transaction to bring home a “purchased” wife. Feather money is located next to hunting tools, and war masks from Oceania, contributing to the holistic image of the Other as a wild savage. “Museums are public spaces where visitors are faced with small bits of information that have been carefully selected, conveniently complemented with drawings and pictures, and carefully arranged to create a particular reading of the events depicted and of the actors involved in them” (Valdeón, 2015, p. 365). In words of Winter (2006), such “collages of memory” of Other cultures contribute to existing dichotomy of French-culturally-superior subject versus Other-culturally-inferior object. The question of identifying with such art goes beyond the issue of representation per se; it is representative of the entire society, in that case—the French society, whose subjects inhabit a world drastically different from that represented in MDQB. Identification with the French version of the world history and interculturality was prominent in visitors’ emotional reactions to the MDQB collection, as demonstrated in the following section. Figure 13 View largeDownload slide Feather money. Figure 13 View largeDownload slide Feather money. Dialogues between materiality and people: pedagogy, message, and affect Having spent two full weeks at MDQB (once in summer 2016, once in spring 2017), I could not help noting two peculiarities regarding its visitors that distinguishes MDQB from other museums in Paris (I had a chance to visit on a regular basis previously, as a European citizen and an intercultural scholar). The first peculiarity (noticed during both of my visits) was linguistic: visitors of MDQB were almost exclusively French-speaking. If the visitors of more famous museums ranging from the Louvre to the Centre Pompidou constructed the so-called multilingual “touristic pilgrimage” to the “must see” Parisian attractions, MDQB was populated primarily by the French. According to Fanon (2008), “a man who possesses a language possesses the world expressed and implied by this language (…) There is an extraordinary power in the possession of a language” (p. 10), and indeed, the power of Frenchness in the museum was almost palpable. As a French-speaking European researcher, I suddenly realized the privileged nature of my linguistic heritage as my own (unquestioned and unchallenged till that moment) participation in that mono-linguistic cultural hegemony. “All colonized people—people in whom an inferiority complex has taken root, whose local cultural originality has been committed to the grave—position themselves in relation to the civilizing language; i.e., the metropolitan culture” (Fanon, 2008, p. 10). Despite MDQB’s motto of creating a space for a cultural dialogue, it sounded like a French monologue. The second peculiarity of MDQB was its pedagogical strategy: attending the museum is an educational must for Parisian school children of varying ages, well-embedded in the standard state curriculum (a fact I took into account during my second visit, deliberately planned around the time period when school students attend major educational museums, prior to their spring break) (Figures 14–17). MDQB’s website states (http://www.quaibranly.fr/en/): A public institution under the dual supervision of the Ministry of Culture and Communication and the Ministry of Higher Education and Research, the musée du quai Branly is both a museum and a center of teaching and research (…) Every year, it hosts programs of lectures and seminars (…) The museum become a campus in its own right, thanks to partnerships with 9 higher education institutions, and receives around 1250 students each year for over 800 hours of classes. Figures 14 View largeDownload slide School children, different ages. Figures 14 View largeDownload slide School children, different ages. Figure 15 View largeDownload slide School children, different ages. Figure 15 View largeDownload slide School children, different ages. Figure 16 View largeDownload slide School children, different ages. Figure 16 View largeDownload slide School children, different ages. Figure 17 View largeDownload slide School children, different ages. Figure 17 View largeDownload slide School children, different ages. Many Parisian teachers treat MDQB as a campus for research and teaching, an original pedagogical institution. Indeed, the museum was constantly populated by classes on “cultural field trips,” children ranging from preschoolers to teenagers: taking notes, drawing pictures, engaging in discussions with teachers, sharing emotions with one another. Methodologically, my purpose was exactly that, to capture, in addition to examination of materiality per se, those moments of onsite learning about the Other and eventually analyze those genuine reactions, those emotions, which—as is often the case with children—are not fully guarded just yet by the strict social norms of civility and propriety and thus are rich in authentic insights. I also attempted to capture interactions of students with their educators, in order to comprehend their perspective on MDQB, its exhibits, and its role in crafting a certain worldview. While listening to the conversations about the exhibits, I could not help noticing the strong emotions and the obvious affect MDQB had on the children. Younger (elementary school) visitors’ comments repetitively spoke of fear, mixed with curiosity about the exotic other1: “I am scared!” or “Madam (…), what is this strange animal?” (talking about a human), or “Why are those creatures all naked and look so mean? Will they hurt me?” The children’s reaction from MDQB reminds of Fanon’s encounter with a child, frightened by the sight of a black person: “Look, a Negro!” (…) I made a tight smile. “Look, a Negro!” (…) It amused me. “Look, a Negro!” The circle was drawing a bit tighter (…) “Mama, see the Negro! I’m frightened! Frightened! Frightened!” Now they were beginning to be afraid of me. I made up my mind to laugh myself to tears, but laughter had become impossible. I could no longer laugh, because I already knew that there were legends, stories, history, and above all historicity. (2008, p. 84) Ahmed (2014) describes a similar story of a child fearing a bear, and argues that that fear is not in-born but socially constructed—historically, just like the fear of Fanon’s Negro—because “we have an image of the bear as an animal to be feared, as an image to be shaped by cultural histories and memories” (p. 8). Fanon explains how, from the glancing look of a frightened child, he recognized the social construction of cultural “otherness” as “wrongness,” inevitably producing fear. At MDQB, children expressed the same profound fear of the Other. Interestingly, the school teachers did little to correct the students or to explain a different cultural perspective (e.g., that most exhibits were in fact statues of humans and not animals, or the particular symbolism of war masks, or that generalizations should not be made, based on one cultural artifact). And again, Fanon’s lines about dehumanization of the Other came to mind: “The Negro is an animal, the Negro is bad (…); the little white boy throws himself into his mother’s arms: Mama, the nigger’s going to eat me up!” (p. 86). Looking at costumes and masks from China, an elementary school girl complained to her teacher: “Oh my God, I will have nightmares tonight!” To which the teacher answered: “Have no fear, we have the right God here in France, and He will protect you!” Young students were also asked to draw pictures of the most memorable pieces—and those looked like sketches for horror cartoons. Teenage students’ reactions were similar in exoticizing the Other. However, instead of fear, numerous French teenage boys were cracking jokes about phallocentric figures, expressing admiration for the size of the symbols, while girls were shaking their heads and walking away, being seemingly disturbed by the statues and the comments from their male classmates. The similarity among all the school children and their teachers was in seeing the Other as a primitive, exotic, inassimilable Other, while simultaneously feeling and seeing themselves as worldly citizens—after all, they came to the museum, where “cultures are dialoguing.” The dichotomy of civilized subjects versus barbaric objects was à la carte in MDQB, identical with Ahmed’s (2000) stranger-danger dichotomy, and the scholar’s conceptualization of such dialogues between Selves and Others as “strange encounters,” producing negative feelings. In her later works, Ahmed (2010) elaborates that “some bodies are presumed to be the origin of bad feelings insofar as they disturb the promise of happiness” (p. 39); and brings the emotional side of othering on a national level, arguing that the entire nation “becomes the subject of love precisely by associating proximity with others with loss, injury, theft, and fear” (Ahmed, 2014, p. 15). From the emotional perspective, the dark and scary MDQB was a place of “strange encounters” of the French with the exotic and scary Others. And I could not help thinking about Alexander Pope’s famous phrase that “a little knowledge is a dangerous thing,” imagining how many of those young minds transitioned from being bias-and-stereotype-free tabula rasa and knowing nothing about some peoples in sub-Sahara, Far East Asia, or Oceania, to having that little knowledge with an attitude—the “collages of memory” and “elements of culture”—able to create a particular vision of the Other as primitive, barbaric, and dark. This is not to say that the war masks, the dowry chests, and the feather money are unimportant in the representation of the culture of the Other, but they should not be the only pieces representing the Other, and thus inviting misinterpretations and cultural generalizations. In line with that, I was trying to imagine how Frenchness would be perceived somewhere in a different corner of the world, if its only representation at a local heritage museum would be a breaking wheel or a guillotine. “As official and institutionalized cultural expressions, public museums (…) play a crucial role in the construction and maintenance of national mythologies, histories, and identities” (Dickinson et al. 2006, p. 29). MDQB continues the French master narrative of cultural superiority, and—as the statistics show—the museum’s pedagogical outreach is impressive: In the period 2006–2016, the musée du quai Branly has hosted 77 doctoral and postdoctoral researchers, awarded 13 thesis prizes (…) provided 19 scholarships for research involving the museum’s collections (…) and 51 doctoral research (…) Between 2006 and 2016 the museum welcomed 500 French and international researchers and organized over 600 academic events involving over 40,000 participants. (MDQB website, p. 58) Furthermore, the museum receives very favorable national and international reviews (see Shelton, 2009 for details)—a fact that in itself serves as proof of the normalization of the Self–Other dichotomy, underlining contemporary French interculturality. Besides, MDQB creates a narrative of French colonial dominance not only via exhibits per se, but also through colonization of the mind—aka the reaction of the visitors, affected by “collage of memory,” although such fragmented versions of the past provide an ideological foundation for dismissing colonialism’s continuous presence. And indeed, the overwhelmingly similar responses from the French audience—almost identical in its alienation from the exotic and interpreted as culturally inferior Other—served as a manifestation of colonialism’s continuous presence in MDQB. Given the magnitude of former French colonization, it comes as little surprise that the MDQB has become a contested site of memory. Various communities have used it as a forum for talking about fear of foreigners and a great number of contentious public issues, including the ongoing French discussion on immigration, integration, what it means to be French, and how the Other should be remembered and represented. “The participants who are actively involved in this type of memory-work have the task of deciding how [the Others] will be remembered, and who will be put in charge of prioritizing the various stories that will be told” (Hasian, 2004, p. 66). Evidently, MDQB tells an ultra-French version of history, rooted in the country’s colonial past, and creating a neo-colonial gaze on the present and the future. “Nations depend upon such histories to ground national identity. Internal colonization, however, makes this history particularly difficult to tell” (Dickinson et al. 2006, p. 40). Precisely because of the internal colonization, MDQB is so special in its representation of Others—or, more accurately, the representation of Othering, aimed at feeding the French national agenda of cultural superiority, juxtaposed by the images of the primitive, wild savages, whose semi-human-ness appears authentic. Et voilà (…) conclusion Audre Lorde (1984) once said that “we always have to be aware of the past in order to understand the present and to avoid making tragic mistakes in the future” (p. 82). As rhetorical sites, museums are powerful places of remembering the past, and honoring even its most forgotten pages. Museums serve particular communities, attract certain audiences, and use their collections to narrate a certain version of history and create a collective identity. Museums are pedagogical and epistemological institutions at the same time: they establish how we learn about the world, and how we use that knowledge. Hasian (2004) even suggests that tours of certain museum can help reduce the likelihood of future genocide and improve intercultural relations. In other words, museums are history, memory, and culture, and at the same time they make history, memory, and culture. The multilayered examination of MDQB presented in this study—ranging from the analysis of location, representation of Other masculinities and femininities, to the overall pedagogy and affect—reveals salient particularities about the interplay of history, memory, and culture in the heart of darkness, located in the city of light. Primarily, it demonstrates how the museum’s materiality and visuality provide us with only partial and mono-cultural information about the totality of French colonization, and its outcomes for today’s political and cultural reality of the nation’s multicultural relations. Contrary to the promise of MDQB’s logo—which conceptualizes the museum as the place where cultures are dialoguing—the way the Other is remembered, represented, and interpreted is a manifestation of a French cultural monologue, grounded in the ethnocentric history of colonialism and domination. Using the museum’s artifacts as cultural texts, la Grande Nation continues rewriting and retelling its grand imperialistic narrative, for generations to come, and the MDQB contributes to the cementing of the vision of Frenchness as a synonymy with the cultural superiority, starkly contrasted—if not threatened—by the dark, primitive Others. Heritage museums like MDQB are considered rather timeless places of memory. Yet, the timing of rethinking intercultural relations between the French and the Other could not be more relevant than today. For one, France is still hurting, recovering from its multiple terrorist attacks, which problematized the discussions of belonging, othering, and Frenchness. And, in line with that, the new political climate in France suggests the strong presence of a particular type of Frenchness in leadership, split between more prominent Eurocentric elitism (represented by En Marche, a centrist political movement) and xenophobic nationalism (embodied by the Front National, whose leader Marine La Pen, repeatedly claimed that French colonization was very beneficiary for the uncivilized Algerian culture; and advised French parents to give only “French names” to their children to enable their future belonging and success). Paradoxically, both elitism and nationalism represent two sides of the same coin, two constituents of the mono-cultural nature of the French Master Narrative of superiority, rooted in the country’s colonial history. And MDQB is a place where such history is monumentalized, is celebrated, and reinforced through the generations to come. Note 1 Translation from French by the author. References Ahmed , S. ( 2000 ). 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Communication, Culture & Critique – Oxford University Press
Published: Apr 13, 2018
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