with the patronage of:

logo club entreprises 2009-2010
peinture sur écorce : tortue d'eau douce au cou court (animal Dua) © musée du quai Branly, photo Michel Urtado, Thierry Ollivier
Painting on bark : Short necked terrapin (Dua animal) © musée du quai Branly, photo Michel Urtado, Thierry Ollivier

The making of images

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West mezzanine

Collections ticket - full price 8.50€ and discount price 6€

From Tuesday 16th February 2010 - Sunday 17th July 2011

Curator: Philippe Descola, anthropologist, director of studies at EHESS and professor at the Collège de France


After Qu’est-ce qu’un corps ? and Planète métisse, the musée du quai Branly's 3rd major anthropology exhibition provides the public with the opportunity to discover the "making of images" throughout 5 continents. With 160 works and objects, the exhibition deciphers Humanity's major artistic and material productions in order to reveal what is not immediately seen in an image.


The comprehension of images is based on 4 major iconological models created by Man. These models transcend all geographic or chronologic classifications - be it Africa, 15th and 16th century Europe, the Americas of the Indians from Amazonia or of the Inuits of Alaska, or the Aboriginals' Australia. The exhibition unravels these 4 models, which translate 4 major world views. They are: totemism, naturalism, animism and analogism.

With the making of images, the visitor discovers the different principles of decryption according to which civilizations see the world and account for the world.

The exhibition has been undertaken in partnership with the Musée du Louvre

extracts of the audioguide

Flash visit

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Discover a narrated selection of some of the works presented in the exhibition

Click here for the flash visit

The exhibition path

The exhibition The Making of Images helps the public to understand and decipher 4 great world-views created by Man, called "ontologies." The exhibition invites the visitor to move through 4 sections corresponding to 4 ontologies: the part “an animated world” is devoted to animism, “an objective world” to naturalism, “a sub-divided world” to totemism and “an entangled world” to analogism. A fifth section, meant for comparison, uses examples of “false friends” to demonstrate that similar formal processes and iconographic layouts actually respond to completely different representational intentions.

Female “Atujuwa” mask © musée du quai Branly photo Thierry Ollivier, Michel Urtado

“A world brought to life”: animism

The first section of the exhibition focuses on animism, that is, the general idea that non-humans have a human-like inner being. Every being -- animal, plant, artifact -- is granted an interior life, with its own intentions and its own ability to act or to judge. On the other hand, the physical appearance changes from one entity to another. The animist reveals different creatures' inner beings and demonstrates that this internal life is contained within different bodies.

Backyard of a Dutch house, Pieter de Hooch (1629-1684) © R.M.N. photo Gérard Blot

“an objective world”: naturalism

The idea behind naturalism is the opposite to that behind animism: it is not by their bodies, but by their minds, that humans are distinguished from non-humans, just as humans can be distinguished from one another by their minds as well.

As for bodies, they are all subject to the same natural laws and do not allow beings to be distinguished by the type of life they lead, as was the case in animism.

Thus this vision of the world, which has been dominant in the West for centuries, must represent two features:

  • Distinctive innerness of each human
  • the physical continuity of beings and things in homogenous space
peinture sur écorce © musée du quai Branly photo Thierry Ollivier, Michel Urtado

“A subdivided world”: totemism

This section presents the world of totemism, which is made up of a large number of classes of beings including humans and various kinds of non-humans, with the members of each class sharing different sets of physical and mental qualities that the totem is said to incarnate.

In aboriginal Australian societies, the set of qualities that characterize the class stems from a primitive prototype, traditionally called "Dream being." The totemic images thus reveal the deep identity of humans and non-humans of the totemic class: internal identity (they incorporate the same "essence" whose source is localized and whose name expresses the common qualities they possess) and physical identity (they are formed from the same substances, are organized according to the same structure, and have the same kind of personality and moods).

To understand what totemic images are, we must first examine the general status of images in Australia. They are always linked to the Dream beings and to the actions of these prototypes when putting the world in order and making it fit the subdivisions that they themselves incarnate.

The representative objectives of Australian totemism are implemented through two very distinct strategies:

  • the body appears as the origin of the image that it has generated; for example, the “imprint of the body” of a painting on bark,
  • the 2nd strategy shows how the world was formed by beings that one cannot see but which have left traces withing the landscape; this is what we call “the imprint of movement”.
Ritual doll © musée du quai Branly photo Thierry Ollivier, Michel Urtado

“A tangled world”: analogism

The 4th section of the making of images provides the public with an opportunity to discover the iconological model of analogism, the opposite model to the preceding model. To hold an analogical point of view of the world implies perceiving all those who occupy it as being different from one another. Thus, instead of merging entities that share the same substance within the same class, this system distinguishes all the components of the world and differentiates them into singular elements.

Such a world, in which each entity makes up a unique specimen, would become impossible to inhabit and to imagine if one did not strive to find stable correspondences between its human and non human components, or between the parts that they are made up of. For example, according to the qualities that we attribute to them, certain things will be associated with heat and others with cold, some with day, others with night, some with dry, others with wet.

Analogist thought thus aims to reveal networks of correspondence between discontinuous elements, which implies multiplying the components of the image and demonstrating their relations. However exact the representation of details may be, it is not so much an attempt to imitate accurately a "natural" prototype with an objective existence, but rather to reconstruct the web of affinities within which this prototype takes meaning.

We can find numerous contemporary illustrations of animist ontology among the great Oriental civilizations, in West Africa or in the Indian communities of the Andes and Mexico.

Large mask of diablada © musée du quai Branly photo Thierry Ollivier, Michel Urtado

Appearances of resemblance: the deceptive cognates

The itinerary culminates with a didactic presentation, side by side, of images having similar formal properties, but whose figurative conventions meet completely different principles. This last stage of the exhibition explains to the public how to decrypt these images in order to weigh the differences, drawing its attention to the fact that a purely formal approach of images does not allow the demonstration of the different world views that they express.

4 themes are treated in this way:

  • Landscape painting: a Dutch landscape painting (the naturalist imitation of nature) and a Chinese landscape painting (an analogist replica of the cosmos)
  • Human representation: man inscribed in the divine circle of the cosmos (according to medieval analogism) and man inscribed in the circle of his own proportions (according to Renaissance naturalism)
  • The portrait: an ancestral bust represented in a realist fashion (from analogist connectedness) and a sculpted portrait (naturalist painting of the soul);
  • Bird-shaped masks: a mask from the Pacific northwest representing a human-type interior life in an animal body (animism) and an Oruro carnival mask, made of composite features (an analogist chimera).