Exodus Stations #4

Research in the Photographic Archive
of the Quai Branly Museum

Marta Jecu January 2018 Quai Branly Museum

EXODUS STATIONS # 4 has launched an invitation to the Portuguese artist Catarina Simão to present her ongoing research around the art of the Makonde and the history of their presence in European Museums.

Her project inscribes itself into the general focus of Exodus Stations: following founding histories of museum institutions, their founding figures, questions of display and archiving of historic information – according to their representations in photography and video. The project brings into attention case studies of museums that blend artistic and ethnographic material and the questions that these connections arise.

Catarina Simão has been following in the past years the role of Makonde art for the anti-colonial War of Independence in Mozambique. She devoted many years in Mozambique to the investigation of the propaganda archives of the Frelimo – the liberating front movement that led the guerrilla war. Their documents which she has found in the Historical National Archive of Maputo, permitted her to follow the visual strategy of the Frelimo politics – while the Makonde art played a decisive role for the formulation of Frelimo’s nationalist discourse.

For her project ‘La Volonté des Archives’ pursued in the frame work of EXODUS STATIONS # 3, she continues this work developed in Mozambique, by delving into the three European museological collections that hold Makonde objects: the Quai Branly Museum, the Museum fur Volkerkunde in Leipzig and the National Museum of Ethnology in Lisbon.

This present publication is the outcome of her research residency at the Quai Branly Museum in January 2018. In the framework of this project, she regarded the Makonde collections not so much from the point of view of singular pieces, but rather from the perspective of museologic history-writing on African art – through museologic archiving methodologies.

As the Quai Branly Museum is the result of an accumulation of collections of objects, documents and photographs from successive French museums founded in the colonial era (Trocadéro Museum, Musée de l’Homme and Museum of Arts of Africa and Oceania), the question of the way in which the information on these objects has been stored and transmitted in time, becomes very relevant for the construction of meaning of these objects.

Catarina Simão’s project is therefore aiming to extrapolate her preoccupations on the Makonde collections with an attention towards the way in which in the Quai Branly collection of objects and their reception is the result a superposition of meanings attached in time. Having the chance of benefiting of the collaboration of Mrs. Christine Barthe, curator and head of the Photographic Collection at the Quai Branly Museum, the visual dimension of various museologic processes of meaning constitution opened new directions of inquiry. These connections are explored in the two texts more down: an interview with Christine Barthe and a text by Catarina Simão, accompanied by card indexes from the photographic collection of the Quai Branly Museum.