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Marres, Centre for Contemporary Culture presents Il faut que le masque ait danse (The mask needs to have danced)

Marres, Centre for Contemporary Culture presents Il faut que le masque ait danse (The mask needs to have danced) open 16 June–18 August 2013.

Objects from a private collection of African art together with artworks by Sara van der Heide, Pauline M’Barek, Jean-Luc Moulène and Alain Resnais & Chris Marker.

The title of this last exhibition in Marres’s long-term programme on the Collector is a catchphrase used among collectors of African art to express the principle that an object’s value depends on its having been used in its original context. It should bear traces of its past life, however much the facts of that life are obliterated when the mask or statue is displayed as a decorative object in a Western interior. The paradoxes inherent in this seemingly straightforward quest for authenticity expose a multitude of interrelated questions regarding the conditions and contexts governing the production and circulation of African art objects and their reception in the West.

This exhibition uses four thematic displays—including a modernist interior of around 1960—to re-examine some of the distinctions that structure our perception of these objects: document versus work of art; pre-colonial versus colonial or post-colonial; and public versus private practices of collecting. At the core of the exhibition is a private collection of objects from the Congo assembled in Belgium since the late 1960s. These objects are presented alongside a selection of contemporary artworks that function as ‘theoretical acts.’ The starting point for the reflection underlying the exhibition was Les statues meurent aussi (1953), a seminal film essay by Alain Resnais and Chris Marker that is both a meditation on African sculpture and a denunciation of colonialism.

The first section of the exhibition, titled Ritual, brings together Pende, Tshokwe and Eastern Pende masks and photographs of ‘dancing masks’ in order to reflect on the ‘rituals’ of collecting—both private and public. The latter is evoked through the ritual of naming of institutions collecting these objects, in Sara van der Heide’s series of drawings 24 European Ethnographic Museums (2010). The next section, Association, presents a collection of small Luba statuettes, Songye and Kuba objects and a Yaka mask. These are shown in a modernist interior circa 1960 in order to evoke a type of interior design that was promoted—as art historian Daniel Sherman has shown—by Andrée Putman in the pages of l’Oeil, in the context of the decolonization of African states in the early 1960s. This ‘aesthetic of association’ sought to liberate objects from their colonial context and grant them aesthetic autonomy; however, in doing so, it reduced them to a set of formal qualities. History analyses a Pende mask previously exhibited in the Stedelijk museum in 1927, and contrasts different ways of writing this object’s ‘life story’. It explores the context of its production and its original use, along with its ‘pedigree’—a notion that indexes value to respected past (Western) ownership. Another way of constructing history is suggested by Pauline M’Barek’s Object ID (2012), which spells out questions used by specialists when researching ethnological objects. Finally, Looking invites viewers to reflect on our perception of such objects by bringing a group of Hemba and Songye statuettes face to face with Jean-Luc Moulène’s series of ‘photographic portraits’ of sculptures from different departments in the Louvre (Le Monde, Le Louvre, 2005).

Collectively, these displays reveal the instability of the distinctions that are made between document / artwork, pre-colonial / colonial / postcolonial, and private / public. In challenging these distinctions, the exhibition turns each object into a ‘theoretical act’ by creating scope for its agency to become visible.

Collection: Tony Jorissen

Artists: Pauline M’Barek, Sara van der Heide, Alain Resnais & Chris Marker, and Jean-Luc Moulène

Curated by Sophie Berrebi

Marres, Center for Contemporary Culture
Capucijnenstraat 98
6211 RT Maastricht
Hours: Wednesday–Sunday noon–19h
T +31 (0)43 3270207
F +31 (0)43 3270208
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