By Jason Vu

Only a few meters from the Eiffel Tower lies a small park with trees and plants not native to anywhere in Europe. With windy dirt paths and flowing creeks, I forgot for a moment that I was in the middle of one of the most bustling districts in all of Paris. Even stranger, this jungle-like environment was the entrance to my class’s final excursion together—La Musée du Quai Branly.


Opened in 2006, Quai Branly was designated as a museum featuring the indigenous arts and cultures of Africa, Asia, Oceania, and the Americas. While a good number of visitors come to see the many unique items showcased in its exhibits, this museum was definitely no d’Orsay or Louvre. Given that it’s not as well-known, I appreciated the fact that Prof. Behdad set up this group visit to expose us to this museum that most of us would otherwise have missed.

Introduction to La Musee du Quai Branly by Prof. Behdad

Starting promptly at 2pm, our class met at the outdoor auditorium of the museum where Prof. Behdad shared a little about the history of Quai Branly and how objects that originated outside of Europe ended up in one of its most famous cities. This history was on that involved trade, colonization, and the construction of the French nation-state. After an interesting discussion on these issues, our TA Mariam returned with our entrance tickets and we soon went on our way.

Ritual Objects from Southeast Asia


The museum’s exhibits were divided based on their specific region of origin. Since there was no particular order in visiting the museum, I decided the first thing I would see would be the Southeast Asian art section. I was impressed by the array of items featured in the exhibit and particularly the ones that originated from the many indigenous tribes of Vietnam. Beyond pots and traditional clothes, what stood out to me the most was the elaborately designed ritual objects used in all kinds of sacred activities such as ritual sacrifices and incense burning. Given my own Southeast Asian ancestry, I saw a lot of parallels between these objects and the ones my family has used before as well.

Fresco of the Virgin Mary and Jesus painted by Ethiopian Christians


Following my visit to the Southeast Asian wing, I made my way to the cultural objects of Africa. Of the many intriguing items featured here, what surprised me the most were some ancient Ethiopian Christian paintings sectioned off in their own little space. These artworks surprised me because they dated back far before Europeans sent missionaries to their colonized territories to convert them to Christianity. That meant that Ethiopia had Christians far before Europe began spreading Christianity around the world, a fact that I did not know beforehand.

Hot pot meal made of paper for “Paradise Palace” Special Exhibit


Finally, to conclude my visit, I checked out the Quai Branly’s temporary exhibit titled “Paradise Palace”. This exhibit featured several pieces of traditional Taiwanese art called “zhizha” or Taiwanese funeral objects. These objects were made of paper and shaped to look like common everyday places and objects such as meals or bedrooms. In Taiwanese tradition, these paper effigies were burned as an offering to deceased relatives and ancestors to grant them these comforts in the afterlife. “Zhizha” are often very intricate and well-designed as evident by the hot pot meal pictured above. While I liked this piece because of how well it was made, I was especially drawn to it because hot pot happens to be one of my favorite meals. Staring at the delicious meal before me, I knew it was time for me to leave the Quai Branly and head to dinner with my classmates.

Jason studied abroad in France in Summer 2019.