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Last Updated: Tuesday, 20 June 2006, 10:25 GMT 11:25 UK
Paris unveils tribal art museum
The museum was designed by French architect Jean Nouvel

French President Jacques Chirac has unveiled his legacy to the nation - a 260m euro (180m) riverside museum in the shadow of Paris' Eiffel Tower.

The museum displays indigenous art from Africa, Asia and Australasia.

But the project has been controversial. It opens as France debates how to heal the scars of its colonial past and accept a multi-ethnic nation.

UN Secretary General Kofi Annan was among the guests at the inauguration of the Musee du Quai Branly.

Guatemalan Nobel Peace Prize winner Rigoberta Menchu, the premier of the Canadian territory of Nunavut, Paul Okalik, and French Prime Minister Dominique de Villepin also attended the opening.

The museum officially opens to the public on 23 June.

Cultural diversity

The museum, on the banks of the River Seine, has been a decade in the making. The artefacts going on display range from masks and spears from Papua New Guinea to costumes from Vietnam and Thailand.

19th century Dance sculptures from Malekula Island inside the Musee du Quai Branly in Paris

The building combines angular glass walls with futuristic cubes of bright colour and, outside, a green wall of thick vegetation, suggestive of a forest or a jungle.

The museum was designed by French architect Jean Nouvel, and is meant to be President Chirac's legacy after nearly 12 years in office, says the BBC's Caroline Wyatt in Paris.

Its curators say the museum is a celebration of cultural diversity, a way of showing how Europe has interacted with other civilisations.

Most museums normally chart their countries' history - they do not usually look at other countries' history, says museum president Stephane Martin.

"It is the first time that a great country gives itself a great institution not to speak about itself, but not to hide the history of its relationship to others," he told French radio.

Colonial history

Critics say the museum does not do enough to explain to visitors the damage done by colonialism to many of those cultures.

Most of the 300,000 artefacts were brought to France from its former colonies.

Some historians and human rights groups say the display perpetuates the old colonialist view of Africa or Asian culture as more primitive than European civilisation.

However, the aboriginal artists who contributed their works to the museum disagree.

They say they see President Chirac's project as a good way to bring continents and cultures together.


BBC NEWS: VIDEO AND AUDIO
See Jacques Chirac opening the museum



SEE ALSO
French film satirises Chirac
01 Jun 06 |  Europe
Colonial abuses haunt France
16 May 05 |  Europe
Country profile: France
18 Apr 06 |  Country profiles

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