Distinguished guests, ladies and gentlemen. There is a palpable sense of dynamism and energy in this museum - which the didgeridoo musicians evoked powerfully and beautifully during their performance.
I am delighted to be here in the Musée du quai Branly - an institution which in its short life has already made a significant contribution to the friendship between France and Australia, celebrating our country’s unique and enduring Indigenous cultures. The delegation I am leading in France in the next few days aims to strengthen the historic bonds that unite our nations - in this case through the promotion of trade and investment. However this morning I have an opportunity to expand the agenda of our delegation to encompass the connection our two countries share through our cultural interests. We know that with cultural understandings enhanced trade and investment relationships follow. While Australia and France enjoy a firm bond – it is a partnership that can be strengthened and nourished through arts and culture.
On June 20, 2006 when President Jacques Chirac opened this museum, he referenced the cultural energy that the Musée was set up to celebrate. He spoke about ‘the first peoples’ as possessors of knowledge, culture and history as custodians of ancestral wisdom, refined imagination, and artistic expression. He described their masterpieces as rivalling the finest examples of Western art. The Collection housed by the Musée du quai Branly is diverse in its geographical scope - it features art and cultural materials from Africa, Asia, Oceania and the Americas and its composition includes photographs, textiles, sculptures, masks... The Collection is a product of a long and varied history, gathered by kings of France, by influential 20th Century ethnologists and explorers. During his speech President Chirac spoke of the destiny of the world as lying in the capacity of peoples to have an enlightened view of each other, sharing their differences and cultures, so that the infinite diversity of humanity can gather around those values that unite us. The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization, based in Paris, describes this type of intercultural engagement as the equitable exchange and dialogue among civilizations, cultures and peoples, based on mutual understanding and respect, and the equal dignity of all cultures. I see this type of sustained deep sharing and exchange as essential prerequisites for constructing social cohesion, initiating reconciliation among peoples and supporting prosperous peace among nations.
Standing here in one of France’s national museums, transfixed by Lena Nyadbi’s superb Dayiwul Lirlmim, one feels a sense of national pride and a deep sense of human fraternity. Lena’s life and her art, tell immensely rich stories that are at once of her land and country, and at the same time are universal. Australia’s Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander arts have a powerful and distinctive presence and are among the ‘infinite’ cultures of the world, as President Chirac put it that day. They form the heart of Australia’s diverse contemporary culture and national identity. This ambitious project we celebrate highlights the global interest in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander cultures. Lena’s artwork marks the continuity and vibrancy of contemporary Indigenous cultures in Australia.It gives the French people and visitors to Paris access to these rich cultures – some of the world’s oldest. I offer my warmest congratulations to Lena Nyadbi for her remarkable talent and generosity in sharing her work and story. I acknowledge also Mr Stéphane Martin and the Musée du quai Branly, and all supporters of this compelling project. We owe a particular debt of gratitude to the Harold Mitchell Foundation, the Australia Council and Warmun Arts Centre. To Rupert Myer and Harold Mitchell I say thank you for what you do for the cultural life of our country, at home and abroad.
My friends, once the roof top installation is revealed later this month I look forward to millions of visitors to this beautiful city glimpsing an epically scaled and awe-inspiring wonder from the Kimberley on the bank of the Seine. I am delighted to entrust this important painting to the custodianship of the Musée du quai Branly, and to the people of France. My friends, thank you.