Museography concentrates upon evoking a number of major themes rather than upon generalised presentation of this vast continent, which today contains over half of the world’s total population, and in which over two thousand living languages are to be counted. The permanent exhibition is an invitation to discovery and understanding of the ways of life, know-how, costume and beliefs of these countless societies, with almost 850 artefacts – for everyday or ceremonial use, weapons and adornments, garments and architectural elements – to help the visitor on his way.
Following an itinerary from east to west across the continent, the museographic journey is organised around a central bay made up of four large display cases presenting costumes evocative of the many peoples inhabiting the region. This rich series of exhibits is ample illustration of the continent’s cultural diversity, and also of social life, art and its symbolism, and styles of dress both past and present – the history of the continent’s peoples in a nutshell.
Around this ‘Ariadne’s thread’, displays devoted to specific theme enable visitors to acquaint themselves with Japanese stencil decoration, Siberian shamanic traditions, South-East Asian village cultures, the various forms of Buddhism, Han China and the Miao and Dong ethnic minorities, along with the myths and rituals of India, nomadic and sedentary peoples in Central Asia, the meaning of adornments and symbolism of weapons in the Middle East, and Arabian desert civilisations. These presentations bear witness to the contacts, exchanges, developments and transformations of Asian peoples too often regarded as being fossilised in traditional cultures beyond the reach of history.
Other displays illustrate the continent’s homogeneity, what different Asian cultures have in common with one another – such as shadow theatre, to be found In China, India, Thailand and Syria, or ikat textiles, produced not only in South-East Asia, but also in India, Central Asia, Syria and Yemen.
One module, devoted to writing and orality, presents various forms of writing – pictographic, Chinese, Indian and Arabic – along with a sound programme revealing the remarkable richness of oral traditions among peoples without writing, and the importance that orality still has in the Arab world.
Multimedia screens punctuate the area, presenting programmes on such topics as Siberian shamanism, the many faces of the Goddess in India, buffalo sacrifice, rice, textile arts, and the genesis of monotheism.