Les Objets Etrangers, literally ‘the foreign objects,’ addresses the presence of objects from other countries/cultures in European museums. These museums, established as institutions for preserving and exhibiting European culture as well as for educating the public, are also places where non-European cultural heritage is conserved and interpreted. Europe has historically and uniquely been fertile ground for absorbing and adapting foreign cultures, and this richness is particularly evidennt in the field of fashion.
Les Objets Etrangers highlights these transcultural dialogues and the connections between these non-European objects and the museums in which they are conserved. The exhibition shows the varied ways in which European museums present these ‘foreign objects’ to their audiences, and ends with a presentation of the reverse - objects originating in Europe displayed in a non-European museum. By tracing histories of provenance and presentation, we examine the different types of museums in which these objects are collected and displayed, and also the multiple museological spaces in which fashion can be hosted, and consequently defined.
For this exhibition we selected six pairs of objects originating in non-European cultures that are now located in the collections of six European museums and, as our final pair, use the same device to present an example of the reverso condition: two European objects conserved and presented in a non-European museum. We selected pairs with similar geographic and chronological origins for each museum, but in all cases, it is their foreignness - their ‘otherness’ - that links them. We present a variety of museum types and a multiplicity of cultures that can be found in these museums’ collections of foreign objects as well as considering presumptions made regarding the origins of these objects, what the object represents to its originating culture, to the audience, many of them were originally collected as cultural / ethnographic objects, not as fashion. In most cases these objects were not made for a western market or to satisfy western taste. They have all been, to some extent, ‘re-contextualized’ - the hand-painted Indian fabrics and the Saudi embroidery can be studied as examples of motif and craft that is re-interpreted in historical and contemporary apparel; the kimono, burnous and shawl are both historic costume and ethnic fashion; all are also available as inspiration for contemporary design.
The exhibition is organized chronologically - we begin in the 18th century and end in the 1980s. We begin and end with hand-painted fabrics (India to Matisse), and in between touch on the Far East, the Near East, and the Americas.
Visit the exhibition at: http://europeanafashion.tumblr.com
Text & Concept by Julie Mahdavi, Anqi Ni, Melany Telleen from The New School - Parsons Paris