The latest exhibition at the Quai Branly is the Les Maîtres du Désordre or The Masters of Disorder. It looks at how in many societies, the world view is one in which there is order and disorder. The order is clear enough, it is the things that are positive and preferred by the society. Of course, life doesn’t always work as we’d prefer. The things that are out of our control are the things regarded as disorder or chaos, such as crop failure, death, illness, bad weather, drought etc. The societies and cultures recognised that the world in which we live is fundamentally flawed and that our knowledge of the world’s machinations is incomplete. So what can we do? The gods are flawed too and we want to understand them, placate them and plan for the future.
A bolidenfa from Mali
The exhibition is divided into three main sections, Imperfect Order, Control of Chaos, and Catharsis and it considers how societies try to manage and understand these things. Societies will try to represent the gods or spirits that bring this disorder such as Dionysius [somehow his degenerate behaviour lives on in his modern namesake, Dennis the Menace] but they will also have people or characters who will mediate with this mysterious world beyond the ken of the wider populace, such as shamen and Papa Legba as well as the specific rituals and required initiations and behaviour. It was also interesting to see roles and functions, such as the fools that we create to mock our own systems and rituals, as if to recognise that the chaos exists within ourselves as much as in the external world.
There’s only one thing that jarred with me about the exhibition. Perhaps in an effort to reflect that “modern” societies also consider the chaos that affects us and our frustrations, as found, for example in the “why me?” questions, the curators have included some examples of modern art, e,g. by Basquiat. The reason this didn’t work for me, is that I’m not convinced that modern art plays this role in our society. It is true that the artists are exploring some of the same ideas as expressed in the exhibition but I’m not sure that their representations and styles are as familiar to the people of the societies whose rituals and icons are displayed here.
Never mind that, it’s a magnificent exhibition so you should go if you get the chance. It runs until 29th July