Jeudi 16 mai dernier, les élèves de 5e suivant l'option Anglais intensif avec Mme Milan ont suivi une visite guidée, in English, please ! du Musée d'Arts Africain, Océanien & Américain du Panier, à l'intérieur du bâtiment de la Vieille Charité.

La vocation de ce Musée national est de montrer des œuvres d’art issues de ces trois continents. Ces objets sont, le plus souvent, des témoignages de civilisations dont l’art fut trop longtemps négligé, voire ignoré.

Marseille est la seule ville de France, avec Paris, où l'on peut visiter un musée consacré aux arts dits "Primitifs". Le Musée s'est encore enrichi dernièrement d'une nouvelle collection de parures de plumes, exposée dans la salle Amérique. Leur remarquable état de conservation met en valeur l'art de la plume dans lequel s'exprime le raffinement de l'esthétique des peuples amazoniens.­

Pour les anglophones, voici en détails le descriptif de la salle consacrée à la Papouasie Nouvelle Guinée :

The museum is dedicated to "Primitive" arts from Africa, Ocenana and North and South America. "Primitive" arts is a pejorative term since it conveys evolutionist connotations. 19th century theories of human evolution and hierarchical classification of human races considered many peoples as primitive and savage, cannibals, which were close to beasts. They were said to be obsessed with spirits, ancestors, death, natural forces, wild beasts, surrounded by sexuality etc. and to be animated by spontaneous and psychic pulsions unpoliced by civilisation. They were meant to represent the childhood of humanity.

Papa New Guinea For peoples in PNG, there complex negotiations between the worlds of the living and the dead and between the individual and society. They consider that death doesn’t end a relationship. For them, a person is biologically but not socially dead.

The "overmodeling" process begins after the body has been buried for a variable period of time. The grave is reopened and the ancestor bones are collected, they represent social permanence. The skull is adorned with red clay, shells, white pigment, and actual human hair to create a fleshy likeness of the deceased. This special treated marks the re-socialization of the deceased. Finally, the finished overmodeled skull is carried through the village and mourned yet again.

There is a predominance of skulls because they come from the Gastaut collection acquired by the MAAOA. Gastaut, a renowned specialist in the brain and nervous system, was especially interested in skulls. But Primitive art comprises many different objects and traditions: feathers, mask making, pottery, weaving, music instruments, etc.

There was a problem with the exhibition of human remains. Some peoples object to the exhibition of their ancestors' remains and have made their wishes known to the United Nations (Maori NZ & North American nations). There was a head in the Gastaut collection that the MAAOA refused to acquire and Gastaut returned it to New Zealand.

Primitive people were often described out of historical time. Past and contemporary people were completely amalgamated as if their societies and practices had not changed at all. Primitive art was considered as unchanging. The Primitive artist was simply executing what was imposed by tradition and could make no artistic choice or judgement. But all societies change and their artistic practices evolve and abandon certain elements or integrate others.

The materials used to create these objects are often considered as disgusting, repulsive by westerners : mud, hair, teeth, skin and blood. Artistic creation and expression is really diverse. We can’t speak about ‘oceanic art’ but ‘arts’. Artists do not limit themselves with reproducing what the custom dictates. Objects have their origin in the tradition and reveal a more sacred and secret dimension. But, the artist has the task of determine what can be revealed and how. Each image has a deeper meaning and the artists are keepers of the images.