Sunday, August 7, 2011

Multi-cultural Paris

My trip is drawing to an end: Rome, Paris, London, home.  I'm now in London.

I spent most of my time in Paris in the Pompidou Centre, looking at the wonderful collections of modern art, contemporary art, and new media; also Brancusi's atelier, which is packed full of his sculptures. 

František Kupka, "Disques de Newton, Étude pour fugue à deux couleurs" (1911-12)

I also saw three exhibitions from or involving non-Western cultures.  The first was a special exhibition at the Pompidou called "Paris-Delhi-Bombay".  Work by Indian artists, and by some European artists responding to Indian culture.  
Subodh Gupta, "Ali Baba" (installation) 

The second exhibition was at the Bibliothèque Nationale, of illuminated Islamic manuscripts from the Bibliothèque's collection.  The accompanying text pointed out something I certainly hadn't appreciated.  Islam spread to cover three main language areas, speaking Arabic, Turkish and Persian.  Religious texts generally did not show animals or humans, so there were some wonderful examples of calligraphy and geometric patterning in the religious works.  But only in the Arabic-speaking area was the ban on showing animals and humans applied to all (or almost all) texts.  Thus there are Turkish and Persian illustrated manuscripts showing warriors and heroes, animals, the constellations represented as people or animals (as the West did also), events from legends or fairy tales, gardens with princes in them, and so on. There was even an anatomical treatise.  Sorry, no photographs, but there is an exhibition website at

The third exhibition was of Vodun (Voodoo) objects from West Africa, and claimed to be the first exhibition devoted entirely to these objects.  These are not primarily artworks, but are considered to have magical properties, to ward off harm or to cause harm to one's enemies.  Most of them consisted of a small wooden human-like statue (often with two heads) with additions such as bones, pieces of metal, padlocks and pill bottles, very often bound around with twine.   The exhibition was very well laid out (by the Italian designer Enzo Mari) and ended with a funeral chariot placed in a small pond with black water.  Again no photographs, but there is a website on this material at

And finally a non-human culture: I went to an exhibition at the Palais de Tokyo that consisted essentially of a large ants' next, filled with large leaf-cutter ants.

Robin Meier and Ali Momeni, "The Tragedy of the Commons" (detail)

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