The “Musée du quai Branly” presents an exploration of our relationship with images30/06/2020 - 01/11/2020
With the exhibition “who is gazing” the Musée du Quai Branly is for the first time highlighting contemporary creation by bringing together the practices of 26 contemporary artists from 18 different countries.
The genesis of this enigmatic exhibition title
The title of this exhibition held at the Quai Branly comes from a text written in 1801 by the German writer Ludwig Hülsen. While observing a landscape, he describes his vision and how his eye was able to reconstruct a cohesion in a foreign landscape that was previously perceived in fragments. According to Chrisitine Barthe, the curator, the title thus invites the visitor to appropriate/re-appropriate images while questioning our ability to interpret visual information and our relationship to the notion of temporality.
The exhibition, divided into five parts with a preamble, opens with the spectacular work of Cameroonian Samuel Fosso, SIXSIXSIX, consisting of 666 Polaroid self-portraits, never before shown in their entirety. A way of instantly plunging the visitor into an unknown universe in which one gets lost. With these raw images, without retouching or make-up, the visitor is directly confronted with the question: Who is looking at whom?
Another work by Samuel Fosso entitled African Spirits can also be found a little further on in the third part of the exhibition, in which he embodies several key figures of African independence and of the African-American civil rights movement. These include Aimé Césaire, Malcolm X and Seydou Keita, among others.
First part of the exhibition: Is the image a stare?
The first part is made up of six series of photographs that approach the practice as a collection of visual fragments of reality. It reflects the fact that visual information can be interpreted in many different ways depending on how the photographic framing operation was approached. Photography can be a window to urban unrest as shown in the work of South African Guy Tillim in Harrara, Luanda or Nairobi, or a meticulous investigation, a way of collecting clues as revealed in Jo Ractliffe‘s photography. It can also be a way of recreating a particular atmosphere with colours, smells and emotions, as can be seen in the work of Mexican José Luis Cuevas.
Second part of the exhibition: Recognising yourself in an image
This section is based, among other things, on Santu Mofokeng’s seminal work, The black photo / Look at me, a slide show that reproduces historical photographs of the black South African bourgeoisie of the early 20th century. The South African artist addresses the question of the image as a means of identification, as a model, as a reference. These photographs show portraits of the black South African bourgeoisie at the beginning of the 20th century that had disappeared from our memories. The artist questions the conditions and meaning of these visibilities at the time they were made and today.
Third part of the exhibition: Images reflect on each other
This part, which constitutes the large central space of the exhibition, gives way to forms of visual narration. It deals with working methods, the way in which we associate images to create a story, and the way in which photography provokes speech. It includes works by Katia Kameli (France), several large-scale installations such as Brook Andrew’s Horizon (Australia) and Dinh Q’s Crossing the farther shore. Lê (Vietnam) . About the latter, it is a construction composed of several suspended photos forming a sort of refuge. Having lost all his family photos during his exodus, the artist tries to preserve a trace of South Vietnamese history after a large part of the population had to flee because of the Khmer Rouge invasion in 1978. He thus seeks to fill in the historical gaps with various photographs acquired during his travels in Vietnam.
Fourth part of the exhibition: Landscape stories
A fourth section presents several artists who practice in-depth investigations. The works offer possibilities for alternative stories related to specific but as yet little-known events in our history, where the image will act as a revealer of a situation or a questioning. Artists such as Sammy Baloji (Democratic Republic of Congo), Mario García Torrès (Mexico), Heba Y. Amin (Egypt), or the imaginary recompositions of Gosette Lubondo (Democratic Republic of Congo). Each explores in its own way the territorial question and the notion of appropriation associated with it.
Passages in time, last part of the exhibition
This part evokes various staggered temporalities. It shows how representations that are distant in time can suddenly take on a new relevance, be questioned, reactivated or reversed. We find, for example, artists such as Yoshua Okón, who offers an ironic rereading of Joseph Beuys’ performance I like America and America likes me, or Alexander Apóstol who, while visiting a house in Caracas in the 1950s, questions the transition to modernity in Venezuela. The Colombian artist José Alejandro Restrepo also illustrates this phenomenon by travelling to the mountains of Latin America to reproduce the journey of the explorer Alexander von Humboldt.