Accepted Paper:

Modern trophy: contesting technologies of authenticity and value in Niamey, Brazzaville, Paris, New York and Venice  


Christoph Rausch (Maastricht University)

Paper short abstract:

I analyze the recent "re-discovery", translocation, commoditization and display of the so-called maisons tropicales. In the mid 20th century Jean Prouvé designed the maisons tropicales for colonial use in Niger and the Congo. In 2001 the structures were removed for sale on the global art market.

Paper long abstract:

In this paper I draw on multi-sited anthropological fieldwork to describe the connections and disconnections between various actors involved in the case of the "re-discovery", translocation, commoditization and display of the maisons tropicales. My analysis zooms in on powerful practices of collecting art and culture, today. On the one hand, officials from the world of cultural heritage argue for the fundamental site specificity of the maisons tropicales. They emphasize the structures' integrity with the urban built fabric of Niamey and Brazzaville. On the other hand, actors from the contemporary art world present Jean Prouvé's system of pre-fabrication as an essentially "nomadic" instance of modern industrial design. They celebrate the "recovery" of the maisons tropicales from alleged neglect and decay in Africa.

I argue that the removal of the maisons tropicales from Africa problematizes contemporary norms and forms of collecting art and culture. My argument joins the focus of current anthropological scholarship on global exchanges of material culture, including art objects, as well as the production of artistic and cultural value under conditions of globalization. My particular interest is in the emergence of a contested global heritage assemblage around the maisons tropicales. Specifically, I ask how alternative valorizations of the maisons tropicales' are invested in changing global relations of power around art and culture.

Panel P38
Cultural heritage, status and mobility