Yinka Shonibare

Musée du quai Branly

If any dispute has defined the short life of the Musée du Quai Branly, it has been the standoff between beauty and ritual, aesthetics and ethnography. Should sacred, functional, and ceremonial objects from the civilizations of Africa, Asia, Oceania, and the Americas, already removed from their native lands as a result of colonialism, suffer a further decontextualization and dilution of aura beneath Jean Nouvel’s seductive architecture and interior design? The museum’s president, Stéphane Martin, has called the museum a “neutral environment” with “no aesthetic or philosophical line.”

It’s hard to know whether Martin’s mugwumpery is preposterously meek-hearted or just plain preposterous, but he recently threw a gun into a knife fight: Yinka Shonibare, MBE (member of the Order of the British Empire), was asked to create an installation to inaugurate the Branly’s new temporary exhibitions

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