the Batak
19th February – 11th May 2008
Special theme Exhibition
East Suspended Gallery
In the North of the Island of Sumatra, around the Toba Lake and on the Samosir peninsula
lives a population which has remained isolated from the Western world for a long time: the
Batak. Steeped in ancestral customs which are linked to mythology and to the presence of
ancestors or natural forces, they have produced numerous objects relating to their ritual
Made by the Toba, the Pakpak-Daïri, the Karo, the Simalungung, the Mandailing or the
Angkola, groups of peoples which form this great Batak family, these tangled or superimposed
wooden sculptures invite us to gaze very carefully at each object. Although the artists are
mainly concerned with detail in the case of small objects, they show a keen sense of
ornamentation in the monumental works.
This exhibition of 115 objects, displayed at the musée du quai
Branly, invites the visitor to go in search of the Batak peoples
through their art.
The approach to household objects includes architectural items
presented on the facades of noble houses, ruma gorga. On all
these sculptures, we observe variations of the singa, a
protective monster with features of the buffalo, the serpent
naga and the dragon. The exhibition displays textiles of
important ritual and magic value, woven by Batak women, as
well as musical instruments including the hasapi lutes used
during rituals by the gondang orchestra.
The exhibition also enables the visitor to observe the Batak as
skilful warriors through a selection of arms and other related
objects: knives, bullet-holders and powder horns; the Batak are
also clever sculptors of stone. The urns, protective statues or effigies of ancestors which
punctuate the Batak landscape, are testaments to the ancient custom of lithic sculpture.
The outfit of the Datu, a magician-priest and central figure in Batak beliefs, as well as the
masks and effigies used during funeral rituals in memory of the deceased, all demonstrate
the important place held by beliefs in the daily lives of the Batak people.
Selection of works
The majority of the works come from the former collection of the Barbier-Mueller Museum in
Geneva; this is where the musée du quai Branly acquired the “Insulinde” collection in 2001. A
selection of 19th century objects from the collections of the Musée de l’Homme complete this
The emphasis is on the formal, plastic quality of modelling of the works as well as on their
exceptional dynamics and powerful energy. The exhibition also displays the extraordinarily
complex and elaborate world behind this creation, through the shapes and details of the
objects which are mostly from Toba but also Karo or other Batak groups.
The place of photography in the exhibition
Whether from the beginning of the 20th century or from more contemporary times,
photography takes central stage in this exhibition.
One room is devoted to the photographs of Tassilo Adam (1878-1955). Adam was German, but
decided to settle in Medan when he was 21 years old. He worked on a tobacco plantation,
began to make collections of objects and became passionately interested in the Karo people.
He befriended the Kabanjahe village chief who allowed him to take photographs of the daily
life and rituals of his village. In 1919, Adam exhibited in Medan 700 objects and 150
photographs carefully printed and stuck on cardboard. This was the first Batak exhibition in
Sumatra. Now, a century later, the musée du quai Branly is exhibiting 12 of his original
At the same time, a series of photographs taken by Peter Horree provides a contemporary
vision of the Batak people as they are today. Wishing to reintroduce the group as a player in
the economic life of Sumatra, the museum chooses to place the Batak people in the reality of
the present-day and shows that it still exists. These photographs punctuate the space and
separate the various themes broached by the exhibition; at the same time, they are fully
integrated in the exhibition’s scenography.
Door of a rice loft
Caption: Door of a rice loft with a stylized lizard
sculpted in high relief. The body of the lizard is fully
Copyright: © musée du quai Branly, photo Patrick
Gries/Bruno Descoings
Top of a magician’s wand
Caption: The top of the wand represents a turbaned
figure astride a “singa”. Facing him, another small
figure, with his hands clasped together, is emerging
from the head of the singa. Karo population
Copyright: © musée du quai Branly, photo Patrick
Gries/Bruno Descoings
Book of divination
Caption: Book of divination with magic formula. The
cover of this book is decorated with a lizard holding a
sword. The pages are covered in Batak writing and
stylized drawings.
Copyright: © musée du quai Branly, photo Patrick
Gries/Valérie Torre
Caption: Statuette of an ancestor with knees bent,
foliated ears and arachnidan hands. This could be a
deified ancestor, debata idup.
Copyright: © musée du quai Branly, photo Patrick
Gries/Gries/Bruno Descoings
Caption: A two-stringed Lute made of two pegged
parts, resembling a boat. The peghead is a sculpture
representing a crouched figure clasping his knees.
Behind him, the head of a singa in front of which is
an animal-like figure.
Copyright: © musée du quai Branly, photo Patrick
Gries/Bruno Descoings
Small knife
Caption: The wooden sheath is encircled with seven
brass rings. A sitting figure, wearing a skullcap and
two bracelets is carved onto the hilt facing the knife
handle. The upper part of the sheath displays a floral
decoration which blends in with the figure’s legs.
Copyright: © musée du quai Branly, photo Patrick
Gries/Valérie Torre
Exhibition organizer: Pieter Ter Keurs, curator of the Insular Southeast Asia at the National
Museum of Ethnology in Leiden, The Netherlands
Assistant organizer: Constance de Monbrison, head of the Insulinde collections at the musée du
quai Branly
The exhibition catalogue
In the North of Sumatra, The Batak, by Pieter Ter Keurs, with contributions from Constance de
Monbrison and Sandra Niessen.
Co-edition musée du quai Branly/5 continents, 96 pages, approximately 26€
Opening hours
Tuesday, Wednesday, Sunday: 11:00 a.m. to 7:00 p.m. Information
Thursday, Friday, Saturday: 11:00 a.m. to 9:00 p.m. Telephone: 01 56 61 70 00
Group admission: Daily from 9:30 a.m. to 11:00 a.m. E-Mail:
(except Sundays) Website:
Closed on Mondays
The exhibition “file” is displayed on the East Suspended Gallery.
Admission charges
Musée du quai Branly (Main Collections, “anthropology” and “special theme” exhibitions):
Adults: €8.50
Concessions: €6 (students)
“A day at the Museum” tickets (museum + Garden Gallery)
Adults: €13
Concessions: €9.50 (students)
Free access to permanent collections and temporary exhibitions for the under 18s, the unemployed,
receivers of minimum welfare (RMI), severely disabled ex-servicemen and the seriously handicapped,
and musée du quai Branly passholders.
Audio guides tariffs:
Individual tariff: €5
Tariff ‘duo’: €7
Family tariff: €2.5 /pers.
Group tariff (from 20 people): €2/pers.
On foot:
Museum entrances are located at 206 and 218 rue de l’Université or at 27, 37, or 51 quai Branly, Paris
7th arrondissement.
Press contact
Pierre LAPORTE Communication
tel: 33 (0)1 45 23 14 14 /
Contacts at the musée du quai Branly
Nathalie MERCIER,
Communications Director
tel : 33 (0)1 56 61 70 20 /
Anne-Sylvie CAPITANI
Deputy director of communications
tel : 33 (0)1 56 61 52 64 /


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