Sunday, May 11, 2014

The Musée Dapper in Paris

The Musée Dapper in Paris, located in the Embassy neighborhood in the 16th arrondissement, at 35 rue Paul Valery, is a wonderful hidden gem, mainly known to specialists of art from Africa and its diaspora, including the Caribbean.


The difference between the Musée Dapper and many other French museums is that the Musée Dapper is a nonprofit organization, whereas many French museums are run by the French government. In the United States, it is the opposite: most museums are nonprofits/public-private partnerships, including the Smithsonian Institution, which I thought was a Federal institution. Samir Bitar, Director of the Office of Visitor Services, provided explanations on this subject. (however, Smithsonian museums are housed in GSA buildings.)

The museum opened in 1986, after the Olfert Dapper Foundation was created in 1983 in Amsterdam by Michel Leveau (1930-2012). Why Olfert Dapper? He had written a “Description of Africa” in 1668, an encyclopedia-style book, whereas he had never left Holland!
Permanent collections include mostly objects from Gabon: Kota, Mahongue and some Fang. The Museum holds one major exhibition every year, and has also started initiatives in Senegal. The current exhibitions, on view through July 6, 2014, are:
- a small contemporary exhibit: Masques by Romuald Hazoumé, who is an artist from Benin, of Yoruba ethnicity, and who lives in Dahomey. He repurposed petroleum-industry related items, such as jerrycans, to create superficially traditional-African style masks, and the results are rather whimsical, even though the premise is a protest against the oil industry's negative consequences on Sub-Saharan Africa.
Gabin Bonny, the Musee Dapper Cultural Attaché, told us that Mr. Hazoumé makes a point of never leaving Benin for too long, no matter his work overseas.
- the main current exhibition is Initiés, Bassin du Congo (Initiates, Congo Basin). The Dapper Museum received, on loan, a large trove of objects from the Belgian Royal Museum for Central Africa in Tervuren. The Royal Museum is undergoing renovations, and the objects were in need of a temporary home; the Musée Dapper was happy to oblige.
The exhibit's theme is initiation. Initiation was an important stage in the life of young Sub-Saharan Africans; pain and even the danger of death made this period very difficult, and thus ritual was important in order to sustain the initiates' willpower and even provide them with a sentiment of being superior to the non-initiates.
Additional photos are shown below. (All photos except first one courtesy Gabin Bonny/Dapper Museum.)

Hazoumé 
Statuette, Initiés du Bassin du Congo
Masks, Initiés du Bassin du Congo
 Initiés du Bassin du Congo

 Initiés du Bassin du Congo
Hazoumé mask
 Hazoumé mask
Hazoumé mask