Raphaël Rousseleau

Furnace operator showing the mound of earth where a brass statue will appear through lost-wax casting

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Fondeur montrant le moule de terre d'où sortira une statue de laiton par la technique de la cire perdue.


Indian Art termed as ‘tribal’ covers different types of objects made by or for members of various communities classed as tribal (Scheduled Tribes, known today as âdivâsî: the ‘first occupiers’) by the Indian Constitution. This definition, formulated by the ethnologist, Verrier Elwin, in 1951, remains the fairest but also exposes the grey areas of the notion. In the land of castes, the category of tribe is still difficult and politically sensitive to define. As for ‘tribal art’ objects, some are indeed made by the âdivâsî, such as the Warlis and Saoras paintings. Others, like the bronzes named ‘Gonds’ from Bastar are indeed financed by the Gonds but are in fact made by specialist craftwork castes. They are only ‘Gond’ objects in that it is the Gond community that oversees their production and uses them. The project’s aim is to specify the origin and function of the objects presented as ‘tribal’. This is done in two parts: the first part retraces the history of our perception of these objects starting with the first work ever dedicated to them (V. Elwin’s, The Tribal Art of Middle India. A personal record, Oxford University Press, Bombay 1951) up to modern day.

The second part addresses the current forms of this art and the journey the objects make from the villages where they are made (and still used in rituals) to the towns where they are resold and exhibited. This second part concentrates on the bronzes of Orissa, a vast collection of which can be found at the musée du quai Branly.


Rousseleau initially trained in philosophy and then prehistory and ethnology; he obtained his viva examination in 2004 (under the direction of Jean-Claude Galey) with a research grant from the Ecole des Hautes Etudes en Sciences Sociales (School for Advanced Studies in Social Sciences). His thesis report focused on ethnology and the history of relations between ‘tribes’ and kingdoms in central India (Orissa). From 2004-2006 he was a temporary teaching and research assistant at EHESS (reading group on “Anthropology and History in India: debates and current affairs”).

He is a member of the Centre d’Etudes de l’Inde et de l’Asie du Sud (Centre of Indian and South Asian Studies, CNRS – EHESS). His preferred research subjects are: the socio-cultural construction of environmental awareness (‘natural’/’artificial’), the ethno-history of Orissa and the âdivâsî groups of Scheduled tribes and the links between oral and written literature and the colonial and Indian imagination concerning âdivâsî.

Most important publications

(coming soon) "Entre Préhistoire, romantisme et récits de fondation : les tribus dans l’histoire et la muséographie de l’Orissa (Inde)", in G. Krauskopff (collectif sous la dir.)

(coming soon): "Comparatisme ethnographique et comparatisme phénoménologique en archéologie interprétative. L’exemple des pierres levées depuis 1904", Actes du Congrès du Centenaire de la Société préhistorique française, p. 1-15.

2003: "Entre folklore et isolat : le local. La question tribale en Inde, de Mauss à Dumont", Social Anthropology, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, 11 (2), p. 189-213.

2003: in collaboration with Kabiraj Behera, "Scheduled Tribes and forgotten kings. Ethnohistory of the Joria Poraja (S.T., Koraput dist.)", Adivasi, Journal of the Scheduled Tribes and Scheduled Castes Research cum Training Institute, Bhubaneswar, n° 42-43; 49-63.