Patagonie — Images du bout du monde


Drawing, lithography / engraving, photography

Images du bout du monde

Past: March 6 → May 13, 2012

What does the word Patagonia call to mind? A land at the edge of the world, with indeterminate outlines, the myth of Patagonian giants, fabulous animals left over from prehistoric times. The term “Patagonia” originates in a romantic imaginary construct that can be dated back to the 16th century. Since then it has given rise to numerous depictions and interpretations, especially in texts and legends, which have combined and enhanced each other over time.

Patagonia, Images from the edge of the world shows the wide range of representations, narratives and myths that are attached to the southern tip of the American continent. It is an approach of this land at the edge of the world according to a geography of fiction that contrasts imaginary representations and concrete facts. As they follow the chronological thread of the exhibition, visitors are taken back and forth between reality and fiction, through old and new photographs, engravings and drawings over the 300 m² of the East mezzanine of the quai Branly museum.

The exhibition takes them on a partly chronological stroll punctuated by images and sounds, where visitors are swept up in the magic of the narrative alternating between evocations of the fantastic and reality. It comprises pieces from the quai Branly museum collections as well as pieces on loan from French and German collections.

* Introduction

“These men live like animals; they are very brave and fierce and they eat raw meat from the animals they hunt in the mountains. They are like savages and are dressed solely in the skins of the animals they kill and they are so monstrous that it is a wonder to behold. But that is nothing compared to a man who now lives among them and who is called Patagon. They say this Patagon was spawned by an animal that lives in these mountains and that he is the most monstrous being in the world. Yet he is considered to be very intelligent and very fond of women. His face is like that of a dog and he has large ears, which come down to his shoulders; he also has very big and very sharp teeth that stick out of his curled mouth and his feet resemble those of a deer, and he runs so fast that no one can catch up.”

Libro Segundo de Primaleon, 1512

In order to remind visitors from the very beginning of the exhibition of the literary origin of the word Patagonia, they are greeted by recordings of quotes from the Primaléon novel (1512) or from the account of sailor Antonio Pigafetta. Visitors enter the phantasmagorical world of the exhibition with a series of prints of the huge glaciers of Patagonia taken by Argentinian photographer Hugo Aveta.

* From Stories to images

This first section of the exhibition takes visitors on a journey through the imaginary representations of Patagonia from the 16th and the 17th century: the edge of the world, where anything can happen…

Cosmographical Fictions

As geographers wondered about the existence of a southernmost continent, Tierra del Fuego seemed either an end or a beginning, a place of extremes. Monsters appeared in the blank spaces left on maps, contributing to what researcher Frank Lestringant calls cosmographical fiction :

“Looking at a map is a spatial art: this “journey in spirit” can even lead to the invention of real geography."

Images created by the first illustrators were reused by their successors: they are found in representations by different authors and from different periods with barely any alterations.

Cosmographer André Thevet (1516-1590) freely appropriated Pigafetta’s text, adding details of his own for greater verisimilitude.


The giants described by Pigafetta experienced undeniable posterity throughout the 16th and 17th century, bolstered by the mention of giants in the Bible. Yet their existence was vehemently disputed by several authors. Byron’s account in 1768 created a sudden and temporary popularity revival for giants, before they were permanently relegated to a simple anatomical oddity, with no further connection to Patagonia.

* 1698-1797, Travels to the Underside of the World

Between 1698 and 1701, Navy Captain Jacques Gouin de Beauchesne (1652-1730) led an expedition to the Straits of Magellan. Duplessis, a member of the crew, wrote a very lively diary with numerous watercolour illustrations detailing the coastline, the wildlife found on the different sites approached by the expedition — mostly fish and birds. It also contains an account of the encounter with the “Savages from the Straits of Magellan”. It gives a very precise and realistic report of the exchanges between Europeans and Indians, in a narrative that reveals genuine curiosity, with no prejudice against the Indians.

Duplessis’s manuscript, a seldom shown document, is presented along with a slideshow of the book.

Less than a century later, Nicolas Restif de la Bretonne (1734-1806) located his utopian fable entitled La découverte australe par un homme volant, ou Le dédale français (The Southern discovery by a flying man, or the French maze) in “Magapatagonia”. He created an entirely imaginary Patagonia for the book: on the other side of the world, it is described as an inverted France, the capital of which is named “Sirap” (“Paris” spelt backwards). An album of engravings by Jacques Grasset Saint-Sauveur (1757-1810) illustrates this theme along with a slideshow of prints from the book by Restif de la Bretonne.

* From the Land of Dreams to a Conquered Territory

The 19th century saw the spread of more systematic explorations: the geographical and ethnographic coverage of the world expanded and became more accurate. The Journey to the South Pole and to Oceania led by Dumont D’Urville between 1837 and 1840 passes through the Straits of Magellan. Like their counterpart Duplessis, although in a more detached manner, naval draftsmen strove to faithfully record the appearance of the landscapes and of their inhabitants through drawings, and later, through photography. At the end of the century, the Cape Horn Scientific Mission produced extensive recordings of several aspects of Tierra del Fuego.

At that time pioneers from the West started to settle in Patagonia: they drew borders and tried to exploit mineral resources. This was also the time when the vision of Patagonian men became clearer and more realistic. The Cape Horn Scientific Mission, which settled in Tierra del Fuego for a long time, established close contacts with the Indians that they considered, as Duplessis had done, to be men and women in their own right. Photographs taken by the Scientific Cape Horn Mission, as well as a scientific manuscript, are shown to the public.

Although History records genuine meetings between Europeans and the Indians of Tierra del Fuego, it also has its dark side. Literature has captured the very real character of Julius Popper and connected it with the genocidal process that swiftly chased the Indians from their land.

Ultimately, transatlantic voyages were not the sole preserve of Europeans. But it was a very different sort of glory than that of explorers, which awaited the Indians who made the crossing during the 19th century. In 1881, several Qawesqar and Yamana Indians were kidnapped in Tierra del Fuego and paraded through several European capitals before the state of their health made it necessary to bring them back to South America.

* Martin Gusinde and the Hain ceremony

Between 1918 and 1924, Martin Gusinde, a priest and Ethnologist, (1886-1969), lived in Tierra del Fuego. Trained in Anthropology in Chile, he devoted much of his time to an extensive study of the populations that inhabited the land. He interviewed, observed and photographed the Qawesqar and the Yamana water nomads, as well as the Selk’Nam of the Isla Grande.

The study by Martin Gusinde took place at a pivotal moment in the early days of participative anthropology. His research, conducted after the slaughter of the late 19th century, betrays an emergency in the ethnographic process. Furthermore, he is one of the first anthropologists to have been initiated on the land, and one of the few to have witnessed the Hain ceremony, later studied by anthropologist Anne Chapman (1922-2010). This initiatory ritual, which can take place over the course of an entire year, was photographed by the missionary in its last manifestations.

Forty original prints are shown for the first time in this section of the exhibition and large-scale photographs by Martin Gusinde are projected to ceremonial Hain music — the young Selk’nam men initiation ritual — thus reproducing the unique and fantastic atmosphere of these rituals.

* Contemporary displays

" but I continued to hold Patagonia in reserve" Bruce Chatwin, In Patagonia .

Patagonia and its myths continue to fascinate us; contemporary artists have taken over the land and revisit it in their own way. The exhibition introduces the visitor to visions of Patagonia by three different photographers:

Rodrigo Gomez Rovira (Chile-1968) offers a resolutely familiar and intimate take on these landscapes, thus revealing their poignant poetry.

Faustine Ferhmin (France-1980) revisits the places described in the myth of the “City of the Caesars”, a utopian Patagonian paradise, the myth of which appeared at the beginning of the 16th century.

Esteban Pastorino (Argentina-1972) explores landscapes at the edge of the world and vast uninhabited expanses of Tierra del Fuego through photography.

Exhibition catalogue Patagonie, Images du bout du monde , Joint publication between the quai Branly museum and Actes Sud, approximately 110 illustrations — 160 pages, 35 €.

07 Paris 7 Zoom in 07 Paris 7 Zoom out

37, quai Branly

75007 Paris

T. 01 56 61 70 00

Alma – Marceau

Opening hours

Tuesday & Wednesday, Sunday, 11 AM – 7 PM
Thursday – Saturday, 11 AM – 9 PM

Admission fee

Full rate €9.00 — Concessions €7.00

Billet jumelé (collections permanentes et expositions temporaires) : tarif plein 11 € / tarif réduit 9 €