Last fall I visited the Musée du quai Branly – Jacques Chirac for the first time. It had been on my list for a while, and I finally made the trip to see last fall’s exhibition about martial arts in Asia. An exhibition that absolutely blew me away in terms of its quality, scope, and presentation. So much so, that I left that day with an annual membership to the museum. Since then, the Musée du quai Branly has quickly become one of my favourite museums in Paris.
A Recent Addition to Paris
The Musée du quai Branly – Jacques Chirac opened in 2006, meaning it is currently the most recent of the major museums in Paris. It is dedicated to the indigenous and traditional arts of the Americas, Oceania, Asia, and Africa, and it has over a million pieces in its permanent collections. The museum complex as a whole includes four buildings, a library, a theatre, and gardens, meaning there is a lot to discover. In fact, one of the reasons why I bought my annual pass was because the martial arts exhibition was so extensive, I didn’t have time to experience the rest of the museum that day. Five months later, I still haven’t.
This is because there is so much to see with just the temporary exhibitions. So far this year I have been to two shows at the Théâtre Claude Lévi-Strauss, and they were both fantastic. The first was a shadow theatre production of Shahnameh, the Book of Kings by the Persian poet Ferdowsi, and it was unlike anything I’ve ever seen before. It was so incredible, I came out of that show very much on a theatre high. I didn’t think the museum would be able to top that production, but then I saw Gilgamesh last month and somehow they did. That show was simply extraordinary. I can’t wait to see what’s on next, because whatever it is, I know it will be amazing.
Early Mornings at the Musée du quai Branly
In addition to the special events, the museum also hosts an extensive roster of temporary exhibitions. Just last week I visited Out of the Shadows: Sculptures from Southwest Congo, and it was fantastic. I was particularly impressed with the presentation of the exhibition. It gave an incredibly nuanced historical and cultural context for the items on display, and the museum worked directly with local artists to connect history with the present day.
I hope that this is the result of the Musée du quai Branly’s part in the growing movement to decolonize museums in the western world. There have been more than a few controversies since its opening around the issue of repatriating objects that were forcibly taken from former French colonies. However, recent years have seen increased dialogue and cooperation between European and African cultural institutions, all of which have been reflected in the exhibitions I have seen so far at the Musée du quai Branly.
For this and many other reasons, I have loved my time so far as a member of this museum. However, there is one reason in particular that I love. Every morning, the museum opens an hour early for members to visit the permanent collections and exhibitions before opening to the general public. Which means on many an occasion, I’ve had the space almost completely to myself for an hour. And it’s been glorious. Absolutely worth the early wake up call. I wish all museums offered this perk to their members. If they did, I’d have a lot more membership cards in my wallet than I already have.
So Much More to Discover
The next big exhibition at the Musée du quai Branly will focus on the art of the chiefdoms of Cameroon, and I can’t wait. I saw a preview last week and it looks incredible. I should also note that I still have yet to see the permanent collections, but I will make it happen one of these days. Good thing I have that extra hour every morning.
Laura Moore is a professional storyteller who loves history and the many stories that make Paris one of the most fascinating cities in the world. Join one of her signature tours to learn the story of a city.