Since humans have always had to adapt in order to survive, it seems appropriate that Paris’s ‘museum of mankind’ should have done the same. After six years of renovation work, the hotly anticipated new Musée de l’Homme finally reopened its doors in October 2015. The wholesale makeover was spearheaded by architect Zette Cazalas, who has turned the Trocadéro site into a radiant, interactive space bursting with playful installations like actual, touchable prehistoric human brains and silicon tongues that speak in obscure foreign dialects. Laid out like a vast labyrinth-cum-cabinet of curiosities, the museum has been redesigned with both adults and children in mind, with tactile tables, giant screens and fascinating audio exhibits meaning visitors can both learn and have fun at the same time.
The permanent exhibits have been cut back, with its 2,500 square metres now hosting only (only!) 1,800 wisely selected objects split into three sections: ‘Who are we?’, ‘Where do we come from?’ and ‘Where are we going?’ The opening displays make a point of highlighting our species’s biological, cultural and social diversity, before the focus shifts more toward the future of humankind and our environment. Throughout, the museum’s curators have religiously respected the stated aims of its founder, Paul Rivet: to rebuff all stereotypes, to avoid any haphazard theorising, and to celebrate the sheer diversity of humankind. That’s something the colossal gallery of busts of men and women of all different races – created by Charles Cordier and Pierre-Marie Dumoutier in the 19th century – makes absolutely clear.
TRANSLATION: HUW OLIVER
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