06/03/12 – 13/05/12
Curator: Françoise Cousin, ethnologist.
Rain: it is forecast, it is sought, it is feared, it requires protection, it is hailed as the greatest gift of
all. It is depicted in innumerable ways: realistically, figuratively, abstractly, through symbolic or
metaphoric representations. It is also associated to musical, or in an even broader apprehension, sound
analogies. Ultimately, rain is deified.
As a meteorological phenomenon, rain is also an integral part of the universe's global system and, as
such, fits into the cosmogonic theories that different societies have developed. Therefore, "Putting
rain on display" requires a range of approaches: symbolic, religious, artistic and material.
With almost 95 pieces and iconographic documents from the quai Branly museum's collections, the
exhibition explores these varied aspects through a selection of artefacts from Africa, Asia, Oceania and the
Americas, where objects with a strong emotional and aesthetic charge coexist with ordinary or strictly
functional objects. The trivial and the spiritual, the profane and the religious, are thereby united and
confronted in a contrast that stands almost as a metaphor of life itself.
Film excerpts complete this selection, along with audio archives relating to rituals and to music that
constitute analogical representations of the rain. Snapshots, taken by some of the collectors and
showing the objects in situ, provide greater insight into of these objects and their use.
* EXHIBITION LAYOUT
As an introduction, three objects are presented that reveal the general
orientation of the exhibition: a "magic stone", a cloud-like New Caledonian
concretion of magnesia along with a zoomorphic sculpture and an engraved
plate from Mexico. These three objects, together with a recording of rain
sounds, beckon the visitor into the multicultural world of the exhibition
and its "climatic" atmosphere.
Very asperous magnesite concretion.
Section 1 - Under the rain.
The first section of the exhibition shows some of the devices created by Man to
shelter and protect himself from the rain.
Coats and rainwear, including accessories (hats, umbrellas, etc…) bear witness to
a craftsmanship that can, at times, be very sophisticated.
Section 2 - Rain rituals
This section illustrates the vital need for rain and the importance given to means
of assisting and controlling its coming. As related means to ensure the survival
of social groups, soil fertility and the fecundity of women are often combined
with rain rituals. Rain Cape
These rituals highlight the link that binds men, gods and their natural environment together. They are
either based on the depiction or visual and sound evocation of the rain, or they are based on results by
mimesis. They are used to make the rain come, to call it, or, on the contrary, to stop and control it. A
great variety of objects are used for rituals: masks, sculptures, offerings, musical instruments, etc… And
they are the vectors of this link, and the basis for the actions of men over nature.
Four main sets are shown in this section:
A set of statuettes and ritual dolls
Musical instruments together with a recording of ritual music,
illustrate the importance of music in rain rituals.
Three reference-objects used in West African rain-conjuring
performances follow: masks, the use of which is illustrated by a
photograph in situ for one of them, and an element of puppetry.
Zoomorphic puppetry element
Objects brought back at the start of the 20th century from New
Caledonia by Maurice Leenhardt, who describes in detail the rituals that they are part of, bring
the focus on the rituals of the region. They are supplemented with a few stones and shells used in
rain rituals in Oceania, and they form the final set.
Finally, this section ends with a screening of documentary films on rain rituals by Jean Rouch.
Section 3 – Symbols and metaphors of the rain
Rain is an element that becomes part of a whole cosmogonic thought system; in turn this system is the
subject of representations that give it a material translation. Rain, along with the rainbow - its symbolic
representation - is the link between the infraworld and the superworld.
This section allows visitors to explore animal representations associated with the rain either through
their physical presence or through their symbolic value. It is mostly amphibians -frogs, toads- and reptiles -
snakes, dragons, turtles, crocodiles- that are related to humidity and the rainy season, and appear on
objects and textiles.
This section also grants special importance to minerals whose appearance
evokes the rain or related meteorological phenomena: translucent "rainbow
spirit" quartz, obsidian, New Caledonian concretions of magnesia…
Some of these minerals were interpreted by men as having dropped from the
sky in a similar way to rain, as evidenced by the names they are called: thunder-
rocks, lightning stones.
The final sub-section focuses on the divinities, myths and conceptions of the
world associated with the rain. A selection of objects figuring divinities and
mythological beings gives an insight into the different conceptions of the
universe in various cultural contexts. Ceremonial bracelet
Rain, essentially a propitious occurrence, can also be evil: it is therefore
necessary to earn the goodwill of higher entities. Some cultures have clearly identified rain divinities
while, in others, rituals are aimed at maintaining a balance between the conflicting forces of nature, thus
guaranteeing the survival of mankind. These rituals then become part of a global conception of the
A series of bark paintings from Arhnem land, in Australia, reflects the wealth of Aboriginal myths related
to meteorological phenomena.
At the end of the exhibition an accumulation of Nepalese kites designed to drive away the rain are
presented; a playful reference that overlooks a humorous video showing artist Marcel Broodthaers trying
to write in ink under the pouring rain. The Rain
* EXHIBITION CURATION
Françoise Cousin, ethnologist.
A doctor of Ethnology, Françoise Cousin was in charge of the Heritage Unit of the textile collections at the
quai Branly museum until the end of 2007.
Over the course of her career, Françoise Cousin has mainly focused on the Ethnology of techniques, which
studies how societies express themselves through their material productions. In this perspective, objects
are particularly useful to identify key factors of cultural and social differentiation. She was especially
committed to conducting techno-aesthetic studies based on non-European textiles and clothing
collections, first at the Musée de l'Homme and then at the quai Branly museum.
At the quai Branly Museum, her priority was to organise and provide access to information on the textile
collections; to this end, she supervised the indexation of the 13 000 pieces of clothing of the collection
and developed a thesaurus of materials and technical textiles. In particular, she curated the exhibition
Chemins de couleurs, shown in 2008 at the quai Branly museum.
The scenography of the exhibition was designed by Alexandra Plat and Christelle Lecœur.
* PRACTICAL INFORMATION: www.quaibranly.fr
A 44 page special issue of Beaux-arts magazine will be published.
The Rain is shown on the East Mezzanine alongside the exhibition PATAGONIE, Images du bout du
monde. This exhibition reveals the range of representations, stories and myths associated with the
southern tip of the Americas through archive documents, photographs and literary texts.
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