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"The Philippines: Archipelago of Exchange" opens at musée du quai Branly
Rice divinity (būlul) with bowl, 15th century. Wood narra / (Pterocarpus indicus / Fabaceae) / sacrificial patina, 35.5 x 40 x 48 cm. © musée du quai Branly, photo Hughes Dubois.

PARIS.- The first exhibition of its kind in Europe, THE PHILIPPINES archipelago of exchange presents 310 unmissable pre-colonial works – sculptures, pottery, textiles, personal ornaments – selected from public and private Philippine, American and European collections.

Located in the China Sea, the archipelago of the Philippines contains more than 7000 islands and extends over a distance of 1700 kilometres. Its geographical situation – between Taiwan and Indonesia – and the history of its settlement since the arrival of the Austronesians have generated powerful and varied artistic expressions.

Through the prism of exchange, this exhibition examines the essential objects of a civilisation strongly based on reciprocity. Whether symbolic or commercial, exchange creates a relationship between visible or invisible beings.

The exhibition is organised into three sections: the traditional works of the mountains and valleys of the Highlands of the north; the textiles, costumes and ornaments of the warrior, and finally the influence of the maritime network on the items produced on the coasts and in the southern archipelagos.

Offering the viewer two separate visions, the exhibition invites the viewer first, turned towards the Earth, to detect the Austronesian influence transmitted by the ancestors of the Philippines, visible in the artistic expressions of the mountain-dwellers of the Luzon highlands and Mindanao. The second vision looks to the Sea. It examines the exchanges between the Sultanates of Sulu and Mindanao and the Indians, Chinese and Indonesians. It is also through these ancient maritime routes that the archipelago's port cities have produced a large amount of stunning gold jewellery.

To introduce the exhibition, a map and a chronological display present the history of the settlement and conquest of the Philippines by the Austronesians around 3,500 B.C., examining the age and dynamism of the maritime routes in the South China Sea, from the prehistoric epoch onward. Over the course of the centuries these commercial routes were exploited and expanded by different ethnic groups such as the Nusantao, Sama, Luzones and Bugis.

The first major portion of the exhibition is dedicated to the cultural and ritual imprints of the Austronesian world on the arts of the Highlands, where rice fields cling to the contours of the mountainous landscape. It is this staple food which defines the cultural stock of the Cordillera region of Luzon, despite linguistic variation between settlements. Among the divinities native to the Ifugao province in Cordillera, the rice divinities (būlul) occupy centre stage. Often sculpted in pairs, būlul illustrate the principles of union and of the reciprocity of the masculine and feminine energies in the Ifugao dyadic vision of the world and of their Austronesian ancestors.

The works presented, whether objects from daily life or dedicated to rituals, were born of societies that value prestige, the accumulation of wealth and the prowess of warriors. Objects such as the būlul or hagabi bench reveal the blessed life of the wealthy noble (Kadangyan) whose power is symbolised and upheld by the organisation of festivals and the creation of sculptures.

The secondary section of the exhibition is dedicated to the textiles, costumes and the personal ornaments of warriors in the Highlands of Mindanao. Such objects were vested in powerful symbolism. In the mythology of the Bagobo ethnic group, wearing a resplendent garment metamorphoses the character and identity of the warrior into Malaki (a mythological hero).

Illustrating the communion between Man and Nature, these first sections interrogate the forms of creation that ensure continuity and balance between the different worlds (the world above, the intermediate world, or limbo, and the underworld). Divinities, external signs of wealth, magic, poetry, personal ornaments and other signs of warrior rank illustrate the history of men under the sign of exchange.

In contrast with the mountains, the coasts and archipelagos of the South saw the rise of the sultanates and of the artistic expressions so beloved of the sophisticated Muslim world. This final part of the exhibition charts the golden age of the port cities and the impact of maritime routes and commercial exchanges on the art of the Philippines. It was due to maritime activity that Indian, Indonesian, Arab and Chinese came to bear influence on the objects presented.

As a result of its strategic geographical position between Mindanao and Borneo, together with its dynamism, the Sulu archipelago benefited from an active trade network, becoming the richest and most important centre of the Philippines until the 17th century. The vitalism of the forms borrowed from this tradition (flower buds, birds, branches and so on) is reflected in the objects collected in this exhibition. The wearing of quantities of jewellery, in addition to bodily embellishment, indicates the artistic vitality and technical expertise of gold-working in this region as much as it does the habits and culture of the chiefdoms.

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