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The Colonial Encounter

25 minutes
Recommended audience age range 18-adult

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Past and Present Ways of Representing and Categorizing the Culture of Ex-French Colonies in Africa

In the first part of the program Annie Coombes looks at the ways in which the culture and history of the French colonies have been represented to a western European audience since the turn of the nineteenth century. These issues are introduced through an interview with Joseph Adando, conducted at the Musée de l'Homme, Paris. Annie Coombes considers the organization and content of exhibitions, and the images of colonial culture disseminated by the popular press and a growing tourist industry. The program focuses on the representations of two African colonies, Dahomey (now the state of Benin) and Algeria. Dahomey was made a French colony in 1893, while Algeria was occupied in 1830. The representation of these two cultures is considered in the context of the colonial displays in the Trocadero Museum, Paris, and the displays and exhibits in the Paris World Fair of 1900. Annie Coombes goes on to consider how forms of ethnographical display and categorization have been developed in the organization of two modern collections: the Rockefeller Collection in the Metropolitan Museum in New York, and the Museum of Mankind in London. She argues that the former tends to emphasize the formal qualities of these colonial objects, encouraging us to evaluate them in terms of western artistic criteria, whereas some of the displays in the Museum of Mankind may encourage us to engage with the contradiction inherent in western consumption of the artefacts and history of non- western colonial cultures.

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Credits -

Nick Levinson

Annie Coombes

Open University/BBC

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