As a newcomer in the scenery of the River Seine banks and among Parisian museums, the Quai Branly museum for non-Western arts opened in 2006.
Its inauguration took place in the presence of public figures committed to peace and tolerance such as Rigoberta Menchu, Nobel Peace Prize laureate in 1992, Kofi Annan, then Secretary General of the United Nations and Claude Lévi-Strauss, a famous anthropologist who spent his life striving to show with his work that all cultures are equal.
The museum aims at spotlighting non-Western arts and the heritage of civilisations that were or are kept away from the dominant culture on our planet. To this end, it houses a collection of more than 300 000 objects from Africa, America, Asia and Oceania. The designation of “non-Western arts” was preferred to “primitive arts”, deemed too negative, as it inferred that these arts were inferior to Western arts.
The creation of the musem was called for by French President Jacques Chirac, who also advocated for the adoption of the Convention on the Protection and Promotion of the Diversity of Cultural Expressions by UNESCO in 2005. The creation of such a place is a very strong symbol coming from France; indeed, it has been a colonial power for centuries, convinced that it was necessary to “civilise” subjugated people. As a matter of fact, France did not hesitate to loot these people’s heritage and to organise humiliating colonial exhibitions in Paris. The museum aims to be a place where cultures can have a dialogue, in order to favour tolerance and openness to differences.
The museum building was designed by architect Jean Nouvel. It has the shape of a bridge, just like a bridge that would connect cultures, and is surrounded by a peaceful garden, suitable for meditation. One of its walls is covered by a vegetation wall. It is a big national museum, as well as a popular university, a media library, a theatre and a cinema. Many events and activities are organised there for various audiences. Moreover, a research centre dedicated to anthropology, archeology, history and linguistics is established there. The museum also publishes its own anthropology journal, Gradhiva.
In many ways, the museum is a proof that peace starts by recognising the legitimacy of all cultures, and serves this goal with success.