Archive for the Museum-related stuff Category

Colloque “Montrer/oculter”, 3-4 mars, MQB (Paris)

Posted in General Anthro, Melanesia, Mesoamerica, Museum-related stuff, Oceania, Uncategorized, Vanuatu on March 3, 2011 by salul


Les actions de modifications de la visibilité dans des contextes rituels.

Approches comparatives

Musée du Quai Branly

Jeudi 3 mars

9h45   Introduction

Anne-Christine Taylor (musée du quai Branly): Présentation

Session 1

10h00 Olivia Kindl (Colegio de San Luis): « Exhibition et camouflage d’offrandes dans un désert mexicain. Pratiques artistiques et rituelles sur les hauts plateaux de San Luis Potosí »

10h45 Johannes Neurath (Collège de France/LAS – Museo Nacional de Antropología): « Opening the earth-oven, closing the umbilicus: ceremonial pits and sacrificial stones among the Huichols »

11h30 Pause café

11h45 Pierre-Olivier Dittmar (EHESS/CRH): « Trois rituels de visibilité au Moyen Âge »

Discussion animée par Brigitte Derlon (EHESS/LAS)

Session 2

15h Perig Pitrou (musée du quai Branly – LAS): « Ce que l’on doit montrer, ce qu’il faut cacher. La ritualisation du pouvoir politique dans la Sierra Mixe (Mexique) »

15h45 Ethelia Ruiz Medrano (INAH – Santander Visiting Fellow, Harvard): « To Hide and to Show Power. The Case of the Codex of the Convent of Tlaquiltenango, Morelos »

16h30 pause

16h45 Guilhem Olivier (IIH-UNAM): « Occulter les dieux et révéler les rois : les paquets sacrés dans les rituels d’intronisation mexica »

Discussion animée par Giovanni Careri (EHESS)

Vendredi 4 mars

Session 3

9h45 Marcello Carastro (EHESS):  titre à préciser

10h30 Stéphan Dugast (IRD): « Quelle effigie pour les génies? Des devins aux masques chez les Bwaba du Burkina Faso »

11h15 Pause café

11h30 Margarita Valdovinos (U. Texas Austin): « L’occultation de la vie d’un mort-vivant. Pratiques funéraires chez les Cora du Nayarit »

12h15 Carlos Mondragón (Colegio de México): «Encompassment and revelation. Double skins and transformations in Oceania and Ancient Mexico»

Discussion animée par Philippe Descola (Collège de France – EHESS/ LAS)

Session 4

15h Patrick Perez (ENSAT Toulouse), « De la place de danse à la kiva. Dynamique du montrer/cacher chez les Hopi (Arizona) »

15h45 Dimitri Karadimas (CNRS/LAS): « Images de flûtes, sons des esprits dans le rituel de Yurupari (Amazonie du Nord-Ouest) »

16h30 pause

16h45 Morad Montazami (musée du Quai Branly – EHESS): « La procession comme performance ou l’art de sortir du musée »

Discussion animée par Michael Houseman (EPHE/ CEMAf)

Representing the Pacific in Mexico: la Sala del Pacífico del Museo Nacional de las Culturas

Posted in Mesoamerica, Museum-related stuff, Oceania on November 18, 2010 by salul

This post has been some time coming. But better late than never.

Map of linguistic diversity across the Pacific.

On Wednesday 6th October 2010, I and my fellow curator Oscar Aguirre Mandujano took part in the long-delayed opening of the new Hall of the Pacific (or Pacific Hall; Sala del Pacífico) at the Museo Nacional de las Culturas (MNC) in downtown Mexico City.

The hall in question consists of a permanent exhibit whose main purpose is to bring together key objects from the museum’s Asian, Oceanic and American collections in an attempt to represent the cultural diversity of the Pacific Rim and Islands for a local Spanish-speaking public.

Given that many of the objects in these collections – especially those belonging to First Nations (NW Pacific Coast) peoples, Javanese and Pacific Islands’ societies – were originally brought to the MNC under the supervision of Miguel Covarrubias (from the 1930s to the 1950s), the authorities at INAH asked us to try to incorporate Covarrubias’s vision of Pacific peoples and material culture within the overall concept of the Pacific Hall.

Mounting the exhibit

Hence, as curators we were confronted with the rapid design of a Pacific Hall which attempts to represent various things at once, not all of them mutually compatible or easily juxtaposed. (The entire project was designed, from scratch, in under six months, given that it was typically thrown together at the last minute by INAH; once again proving that their timeframes are rarely conducive to the proper execution of a major exhibition space such as this one…o tempora, o mores).

  • First, it is intended to be the principal museum space dedicated to the representation of the Pacific (understood in its widest sense, i.e., the Pacific Rim and Islands) in Mexico. The fact that it is housed at the MNC serves to remind the public that said museum is the single most important repository for the arts of Asia and the Pacific in Mexico.
  • Second, following the express, and not entirely coherent, desire of the current INAH authorities, it attempts to evoke the vision of the Pacific that Covarrubias developed during the 1930s and 1940s. This vision, as far as we have been able to discern, was inspired on at least three sources: first, a vague sort of cultural diffusionism regarding the purported ancestral and aesthetic unity of the cultures of the Pacific Rim and Islands; second, Covarrubias’s close study of early 2oth century Pacific collections at various prominent European and American institutions, most prominently the Field Museum in Chicago; and, third, his misplaced belief in the fact that the natural target of cultural and political interest for the Post-War United States was to be the Pacific, rather than Europe.
  • Third, it is also meant to offer a coherent vision of the cultural diversity of the myriad societies that inhabit the littoral (coastal) and insular geographies that make up the Pacific Rim and Islands.

Introductory panel, Sala del Pacifico.

This third theme brings the Pacific Hall in line with the MNC’s current interest in presenting itself as the primary museological space for the representation of global cultural diversity in Mexico.

Given that I regard this interest with a healthy dose of skepticism, it requires some explanation.

In sum, the MNC’s interest in cultural diversity arises from the bureaucratic introduction of this concept during the Fox presidency (2000-2006), and more recently of its continuity under the Calderón administration, into the mainstream educational and public outreach narratives of the Mexican government. This, especially in relation to federally funded programmes relating to the representation and revaluation of Indigenous peoples in Mexico.

Under these narratives, Mexico was officially declared a “multicultural” country, and it was therefore incumbent on its educational and cultural authorities to

MNC staff and INAH conservation specialist, with Aboriginal Australian art, during the selection process. Credit: C. Mondragon

demonstrate that they -and by extension all “we” Mexicans- are sensitive to the diversity of cultures around the world. That the concept of multiculturalism has been handled with a great deal of frivolity as a politically correct (but legally and morally non-binding) way of recognizing the existence and importance of the previously marginalised and discriminated Indigenous population of our country has been the object of much scholarly debate. But it was meant to be a fundamental part of the Pacific Hall’s contents and narrative, so we did not have much choice in the matter.

As the gentle reader will have surmised, I am none too impressed by the shallow, because unproblematic and self-complacent, interpretation of cultural diversity

Oscar Aguirre Mandujano, co-curator, during the final selection process for the Pacific Hall at the MNC. Credit: C. Mondragón

stemming from the official government rhetoric described above; nor by its reproduction in musea such as the MNC. Nevertheless, it is true that when I accepted the curatorial commission for the Pacific Hall I had to try to compromise between my skepticism and the unique opportunity to work from the inside, as it were, in order to produce a more ambitious, conceptually sophisticated and educational exhibit which just might bring a slightly more nuanced and open-ended notion of cultural diversity to the broader public.

Part of the strategy which Oscar and I decided to employ in order to generate useful themes for comparison across Pacific Rim and Islands’ cultures was the

Gomon (Kanak house post)

inclusion of two “subtexts”, which we inserted within various of the panels and labels of the exhibit in such a way as to invite the reading public to think on certain problems without compromising the overall thematic concerns of the INAH authorities.

The themes in question were, on one hand, the effect on local aesthetic values of regional production systems, namely, tubers for the Pacific Islands, rice for the Asian littoral, and maize for the Americas, and, on the other, the widespread presence of shamanistic rituals and beliefs across the Americas and parts of mainland Asia.

I believe that the introduction of texts relating to production systems worked fairly well and allows the public to realise that what they are observing are not simply the abstracted result of intangible creativity, but a set of objects which are intimately linked up with all sorts of other contexts and values, many of which are rooted in the local ecologies and basic productive activities of the peoples represented herein.

Yup'ik masks (Alaska).

As for the subtext on shamanism, Oscar managed to pull off some really nifty labels and a panel dedicated to orality, ritual and cosmology. Unfortunately, his main panel on shamanism is hidden away in the upper right-hand corner of the platform dedicated to Arctic societies.

But never mind. In the end, I do believe our job was well done, given the absurd limitations (temporal, conceptual and bureaucratic) under which we had to work, and I am happy to lay out some of the images, ideas and contradictions behind the Pacific Hall in this space. For what it’s worth.

Kwakwaka'wakw mask (First Nations, Canadian Pacific littoral)


Calendarios mesoamericanos en el MNA

Posted in Mesoamerica, Museum-related stuff on November 16, 2010 by salul

El Calendario Mesoamericano en sus Inscripciones,

Códices, Monumentos y Estelas




  1. El calendario maya. Inscripciones y presagios
  2. Introducción a los sistemas calendáricos mesoamericanos
  3. El tiempo mítico, el tiempo histórico, el tiempo mágico
  4. El calendario en los códices de los valles centrales de México
  5. Instrumento de poder: el calendario y los monumentos


sábados de 10:00 a 13:00hrs
del 13 de noviembre al 11 de diciembre
Auditorio Fray Bernardino de Sahagún
Inscripciones: Deptartamento de Promoción Cultural, Museo Nacional de Antropología (México, DF)
Tel. 55536381 y 86 (horario de lunes a viernes de 9:00 a 19:00hrs)

Clausura de “Moana”, domingo 4 de julio

Posted in Exposición Moana, Museum-related stuff on June 28, 2010 by salul

Aprovechen porque los calendarios del INAH son insondables y tanto se perdió la Semana Santa  como no permitieron extender Moana durante el resto de las vacaciones de verano.

Por ende, esta será la última semana que estará abierta al público, y no habrá traslado a otra sede. El lunes 5 comienza a desmontarse.

To any foreign visitors with the intention of visiting the exhibit Moana: Culturas de las Islas del Pacífico, please be advised that this is its final week. Closing Date is at the end of Sunday 4 July.

Finis coronat opus

Breve reseña en Enfoque

Posted in Museum-related stuff on May 28, 2010 by salul

Reflexiones en torno a Moana

Posted in Exposición Moana, General Anthro, Museum-related stuff, Oceania on May 27, 2010 by salul

El Centro de Estudios de Asia y África y El Colegio de México

a través del Cuerpo Académico

“Cultura Material, Visual y Textual en Asia y África”

se complacen en invitar a la discusión

Perspectivas críticas en torno a

Moana: Culturas de las Islas del Pacífico


Carlos Mondragón (CEAA, Colmex), Óscar Aguirre Mandujano (School of Oriental and African Studies), Karen Cordero Reiman (Universidad Iberoamericana), Renato Gonzalez Mello (Instituto de Investigaciones Estéticas, UNAM), Deborah Dorotinsky (Instituto de Investigaciones Estéticas, UNAM); Sandra Rozental (New York University).

Miércoles, 2 de junio de 2010

16:00 Hrs., salón 5524

El Colegio de México

New research data derived from “Moana” exhibit

Posted in Exposición Moana, Fieldwork (Melanesia), General Anthro, Melanesia, Torres Islands on May 1, 2010 by salul

Na-Hawhaw from Motalava, Banks Islands, Vanuatu

This post is about one of the first significant research spin-offs to emerge directly from one of the objects displayed in the Moana exhibit, which will be open to the public until 30 June at the National Museum of Anthropology in Mexico City.

I am referring to the object pictured here as it appears within its display case in one of the “Atua” halls of the Moana exhibit. This board comes from the Peabody Essex Museum in Massachussetts, and its meaning had hitherto been virtually unkown.

The object in question is described, in the PEM’s database, as a “board image for Sukwe (men’s graded rituals), Bank Is. [sic], Vanuatu” (PEM catalogue number E52699). It is recorded as having been collected in 1972 in Motalava, and subsequently donated, in 1995, by no less a controversial character than the recently deceased D. Carleton Gajdusek.* The board’s dimensions are: 2.5 cms thick, 78.8cms long and 9.5cms wide.

Until a few weeks ago, this was all the data available for this object. Due to the strikingly beautiful photograph that was taken of it, the designer of the exhibition catalogue, Ms Natalia Rojas, decided to use it as the cover photo for the Atua section of said tome. Consequently, I wrote up a brief description of it, for the catalogue, which described it in much the same terms, namely, as a board from Motalava that probably represented powerful beings and was related to the Sukwe.

However, thanks to the fact that I distributed images of some of the objects in Moana for which we possessed relatively little information, including the Motalava “spirit board”, the above image eventually made its way to the monitor of my good friend and colleague, the linguist Alexandre François.

Motivated by the relative mystery of the image depicted on this board, Alex dug around in his incredibly rich database of Motalavan and Banks Islands images and information…and came up with an incredible find. In sum, he ran into a photo which he took in recent years on the West coast of the large island of Gaua.

A man Gaua with a tattoo of the "Spirit of the Dancer". (c) Alexandre François.

“Na-hawhaw” [nahawˈhaw]
‘the Dancer: name of a customary design or tattoo used by initiated men, representing a dancer with a symmetrical body, and arms raised as in the manly Haw dance’
— Language: Mwotlap, Motalava I., Banks Is, Vanuatu.

Furthermore, the Haw dance which Alex describes was recently recorded by Éric Wittersheim for the documentary Le Salaire du Poète, which was produced on Motalava in collaboration with Alex. A short clip of the Haw dance can be seen in this brief video uploaded by Éric on Youtube.

Alex also provided the following information regarding this video extract:

The hawhaw-ing dancers appear at 00’39” in the background, and dance around the musicians, holding Cycad palms (only allowed to initiated men).

In a follow up message Alex advanced even more information:

I believe that the vertical symmetry of the design (you may want to call it the “Spirit of the Dancer”, because of course it is understood as a Spirit or Supernatural being) reflects the vertical symmetry of the dancer’s body in the prototypical Haw dance. That is, a good Haw-ing dancer will raise his knees up in the same way as he moves his elbows up and down. [I found it hard at the beginning but it’s fun: try it in your living room!]
Often it’s only the leader in the line of dancers who performs the total body movement, while his followers will mostly move their arms. (This is visible from another piece of Eric’s film which is not online).

“haw tēy nem̄el” ‘dance with a cycas palm’. (c) Alexandre François.

He also provided this image of his nominal father from Motalava, a man by the name of Moses, as he engages in a hawhaw dance.

For my part, I immediately recognised the Hawhaw dance as being related to a type of dancing from the Torres Islands known locally (in Lo-Toga language) as nehuwe, thereby further confirming that it has links to ritual dancing across the Banks and Torres (at least as far as Motalava, Gaua and the Torres are concerned).

Fortunately, all of the above data reached me just in the nick of time, so I was able to modify the contents of the label that accompanies object E52669 in the Moana exhibition. Hence, for the first time since it was collected, we were able to provide a more accurate description of this board, and in the process generate a set of important new references regarding ritual dancing, grade taking and aesthetic values related to the material and visual cultures of North Vanuatu.

I cannot think of a more fitting and satisfying tribute to the Moana exhibition than the above story. I thank Alex, first and foremost, and the people of Motalava, the Banks and Torres Islands for their collective knowledge, from which they draw an amazing capacity to constantly surprise us with the richness of their creations.

*That Gajdusek may have visited Motalava in the early 1970s is quite likely, since this date coincides with a brief research stint that he carried out in the neighbouring South East Solomons during that period. The research in question was part of a broader team effort to obtain biomedical and genetic data in order to attempt a reconstruction of the genetic history of some of the societies of this region; a relevant summary of the results of this effort can be consulted here.