Curator, Yaelle Biro: My name is Yaelle Biro. Félix Fénéon throughout his life collected a large number of objects from Africa, and also from the Pacific.
The five objects that you see in front of you are heddle pulleys that were parts of looms. They hang in front of the face of the weaver, and this is the main element that the weaver would see while weaving a band of cloth. What we think was particularly appealing for somebody like Fénéon was the endless inventivity shown by these Baule and Guro artists in the reinterpretation of this very simple object into something of delight.
At the end of the 19th century, objects from Africa started entering ethnographic museums. This was very much tied to the colonial enterprise and the sense that the objects were being collected as the last testimonies of disappearing cultures. So the objects were really not seen as works of art.
Fénéon had a little bit of a different sensibility. He was very quiet about his own collecting practice. What is interesting and what we do know is that Fénéon himself never called these objects primitive. He preferred the term “art from far away places.” And what that says is that he didn't consider these works inferior in any way. He just realized that they came from elsewhere. Within the colonial context of the time, having a gaze that can see these objects as something beautiful and worth of admiration was quite a change.