Institute of Social and Cultural Anthropology and the Ethnographic Collection of the University of Göttingen (Germany)
Researching Collecting – Objects and their Impact on the Formation of Ethnography
The integrated research and exhibition project “Researching Collecting” (Sammeln erforschen) is founded by the VolkswagenStiftung and focuses on the impact the university collections had on the emergence of scientific disciplines – especially ethnography – from the late 18th century onwards. The aim of the project is to find out whether and in what respect the genesis of the academic disciplines was stimulated and influenced by actively using the university collections in research and teaching. From 1773 onward Göttingen University collected a wide range of items in the so-called Royal Academic Museum, which was dissolved in the late 19th century giving the newly founded institutes their “own” collections respectively.The outcome of the three-year research project will be presented in the form of a post representative exhibition in the new Forum Wissen in Göttingen. The Forum Wissen is planned as interface between the university and the public and concentrates on ‘knowledge in the making’. Terms, conditions, circumstances, locations, actors that play a role in the creation of knowledge will be examined and presented. The exhibition will demonstrate the process of research conducted in the project by using ethnographic methods. We plan to experiment with participative curatorship that includes indigenous actors as well as indigenous knowledge concepts. The idea is to present the different disciplines their representatives and actions as “academic tribes”. The challenge will be to negotiate our ideas and conceptions with completely different groups of participants in an open way.
Ethnographic Museum of Istria (Croatia)
Re-imagining Local Culture in the Era of a Mass Tourism-driven Society
It has been more than a decade that the idea of new permanent exhibition at the Ethnographic Museum of Istria was born and a part of the project made its debut last year in 2017. The remaining part is due to be inaugurated soon. In the meantime a number of changes have occurred. Not just at the level of the exhibition’s concept and display developments but also about the museum’s practical habitus and relationship with the social reality we are all immersed in on a daily basis, in the frame of global trends experienced locally.
One of these global trends dominant on a local level is represented by tourism. There is no doubt that tourism affects cultures and societies, places and spaces in a setting that some people call home while others call it tourist destination. This (con)temporary global phenomenon of massive migration of people mainly in search of pleasure is rarely the subject of a critical reflection in Croatia and in the Istrian region: places where tourism represents the primary economic industry. There are many social actors, cultural and business agents, so called “creative industries”, involved in the process of creating cultural "products" that are contributing in the enterprise of "branding" the "destination" through "experiencing" the local "authentic" cultural, historical and natural particularities. Museums are actively involved in such processes, as well.
This paper considers where the Ethnographic Museum of Istria positions itself on this inter-sectorial map dedicated to framing local cultures and communities. Departing from the new permanent exhibition, more than answers, this paper aims to critically observe and discuss the general trend promoted by the tourist sector and frequently accepted by wider public initiatives in the frame of a cultural tourism paradigm and derived practices, that can often be defined as "ethnotainment".
Vilnius University / European Humanities University (Lithuania)
The heterogeneity of Ethnographic Mirrors: Changing Relationship between Open-air Museums and their Visitors
Though the concept of an ethnographic open-air museum is not a new one, little is known about the ways post-modern visitors frame their perceptions and construct personal attachment to the reconstructed spaces, displaying the remnants of a pre-modern order (peasantry, wooden architecture) that has disappeared. This paper outlines a study that explores how contemporary visitors interact within and in relation to the hybrid spaces of ethnographic open-air museums. The analysis is based on a qualitative study of visitors in the Belarusian State Museum of Folk Architecture and Rural Lifestyle (Aziartso, Belarus) and the Open-air Museum of Lithuania (Rumšiškės, Lithuania). The data were collected using participatory observation and semi-structured interviews with visitors on the sites. The paper employs a constructivist approach and conceptualizes an ethnographic museum as a free-choice environment, where behaviour patterns are linked to the institutional context and visitors’ ability to perceive the information that specified the possibilities and constraints for the interaction with the museum’s space. The study reveals how the complexity of museum affordances creates the diversity of visiting scenarios and shapes the functional mode of the museums. The implications of research could be relevant to museum’s policymakers to design cultural, recreational and educational policies of ethnographic open-air museums for different audiences.
MUCEM Musée des Civilisations de l’Europe et de la Méditerranée (France)
Museum and Anthropocene: an Exhibition on Waste in the Museum for European and Mediterranean Civilizations (Marseilles)
On March 2017, the Museum of European and Mediterranean Civilizations (MuCEM) opened a new exhibition “Lives of Garbage: the Economy of Waste”. This exhibition was the result of a large ethnological research project on the industry of waste in the Mediterranean. The waste economy, as documented and displayed in the MuCEM covers all forms of acquisition, management, trade, transformation and salvage of material objects destined for disposal or a new life. For the MuCEM, this was an opportunity to present and discuss the effects of the current environmental and economic crises our societies are confronted with. It also brought to light the new stakes of Human presence on earth revealed by the awareness of our entrance into a new era called "Anthropocene". The exhibition had been designed to open people’s eyes to the way in which excess and leftovers from our production and consumption habits are managed and processed.
In my paper I will discuss the results of this exhibition and other public manifestations linked to it in and outside the museum such as workshops for reuse or repair leftovers or collective rubbish collections in the town.
Kyung Hyo Chun
Institute for Peace and Unification Studies, Seoul National University (South Korea)
Representations of the Divided Minjok: The Presence and Absence of North Korea at the National Museum of Korea
Despite its common usage in both everyday life and public institutions in South Korea, the definition and the conceptual boundary of Han minjok (Korean ethnicity or Korean People) remains obscure. This paper illustrates the inconsistency and arbitrariness found at the museums in South Korea in addressing and depicting Han minjok. Han minjok refers to a Korean ethnic group that is believed to have originated from the common ancestor, Tan’gun. Based on this definition, North Korea is perfectly qualified for membership in Han minjok. However, the boundary of Han minjok in the real world is less clear than in the definitional sense. Proclaiming itself as the only legitimate government within the Korean Peninsula, South Korea refuses to acknowledge the North Korean government as a rightful polity. This official stance complicates the way in which North Koreans are recognized by South Koreans in the context of Han minjok: can we (South Koreans) embrace the political adversary (North Koreans) in the name of minjok, despite an apparent gap in social values and political intentions? The South Korean museums’ uncomfortable and sometimes inconsistent conceptualization of North Korea both as a long lost sibling and at the same time as a threatening enemy demonstrates the convoluted and conflicting narrative of Han minjok that is heavily laden with both emotion rooted in ethnicity and politics based on the nation-state.
Mahidol University (Thailand)
The Next Text in the Ethnographic Exhibition: A Sustainability of a Disruptive Life-World
RILCA has a small museum called the Museum of Cultural Anthropology which is a function-based museum. The museum content describes the life-world of ethnic minorities in Thailand and their interrelatedness with and impact on the institute’s research projects over 30 years.
At present, we are renewing our exhibition. The museum’s mission is to serve as a means of promoting transformative learning for our audience and clients to develop critical and creative problem solving skills and living in harmony with people in a multicultural society.
This presentation proposes how a ‘permanent’ ethnographic exhibition can last for at least 10 years. Nowadays, one of the big problems for museum exhibitions is to demonstrate how the life-world of ethnic minority groups has been transformed so drastically and rapidly. This leads to the issue of sustaining the narrative and remaining “up to date” for those 10 years.
We have drafted a conceptual design to create a conversation with our audience in three domains i.e. description, criticism, and prospection. These three domains are set along with a timeline period divided into three periods according to the country’s development scheme under the reign of King Rama IX; pre-development, developing, and post-development.
The first period uses a historical perspective to describe ethnic minorities’ life-world. The second period critiques the social integration movement that tried to improve their quality of life and the consequences of that. The last one is an open dialogue to propose a life-world in contemporary society and their struggle to make meaning of their own identities.
We argue that the sustainability of the ethnographic exhibition narrative does not to rely on the strength of the story, but rather functions as an arena for an open conversation to create a shared meaning of ethnic identity. Therefore, ethnography is not about describing or criticising, but rather a method to be applied for the benefit of mankind. We imagine that the ethnographic exhibition should be a co-working space to promote a conversation of empathy and co-create a multicultural society.
National Museum of the American Indian, Smithsonian Institution (USA)
Voicing the Voiceless: The National Native American Veterans Memorial, Oral History Project
This paper will explore the National Museum of the American Indian’s (NMAI), National Native American Veterans Memorial Oral History Project and the impact of Native North American Indian military service in the United States of America and abroad in the 20th and 21st centuries.
The paper will examine how the museum, in partnership with the Library of Congress Veterans History Project, serves as an advocate for the indigenous perspective. The Native voice is documented through collecting historical accounts of American Indian military service in the US military from World War II in Western Europe to modern-day conflicts throughout the globe.
The Indigenous population in the US is a noticeable minority, statistically-- however, the American Indian population, per capita, serve more in the US military than any other ethnic group. Throughout the centuries, the American Indian voice has been neglected, if not forgotten, in US History and abroad. Through Re-imagining the museum in the global contemporary, the National Native Veterans Memorial Oral History Project shall be a platform to listen to the American Indian narrative.
Historic St. Mary’s City (USA)
Sharing Authority Can Be Rewarding: The More you Give the More you Get
For centuries, museums were the province of the expert. Following this model, professional staff, by virtue of their training, had the authority to decide which stories were told and how. Typically this meant that the stories of the dominant culture were the subject of the museum’s exhibits and programs. Current theory argues that museums should share their authority, their knowledge and power, particularly with members of the community who have been historically under-represented. Museum staff might genuinely want to make connections with their constituents, but there is no universal flow chart to help them navigate this relatively new intellectual landscape. Sharing authority can be particularly daunting for those who are used to the traditional model.
This paper will present two case studies that demonstrate sharing knowledge and power is both easier and more difficult than one might think — but definitely worth the effort. The first case describes the Mark Twain Boyhood Home & Museum’s efforts to engage with the African American community in Hannibal, Missouri, USA. The second case focuses on Historic St. Mary’s City in St. Mary’s City, Maryland, USA and its outreach to the indigenous Piscataway Tribe.
The starting point for sharing knowledge and power is to build meaningful relationships. This can be a slow process. Often members of under-represented groups do not see a traditional museum as relevant to or reflective of their experience or interests (which also might be the truth). In particular, people who have been marginalized because of race or class might not believe that the museum holds any value for them. They might resist engagement, because they are sceptical of the museum’s motivation. The museum professionals need to recognize that experience over generations has taught members of certain groups to be distrustful. Therefore, staff must go to the community to start the conversation. They must be mindful that conversation involves listening as well as talking. With time, persistence, transparency, and the best interest of the community groups in mind, the museum staff and its new partners can learn from one another and create powerful exhibits and programs together.
Jason A. Falkenburg
Museum of Cultural History (Norway)
Issues with Moving Heritage: Stave Church Portals and Museum Practices
This presentation intends to focus on portals of Norwegian Stave Churches that in their original medieval setting functioned as transgressive markers of the dividing line between the secular and the spiritual, the material and the immaterial world. Heavily decorated with elaborate carvings, and transferred to and displayed in museums since the 19th century, these portals offer a challenge to the modern viewer as to how their ambiguous identity and agency as individual (‘art’) object can be experienced and re-imagined. This challenge was met in an experimental exhibition in spring 2018 in the Oslo Museum for Cultural History. The paper addresses a key issue that underlies the making of this exhibition; that is, transporting stave church portals which has become increasingly problematic due to their status as irreplaceable heritage items in and of themselves but also because the most prominent ones are ‘frozen’ in permanent exhibitions that are unofficially sanctioned as heritage entities.
Department for Museum and Tourism Development, Moscow State Pedagogical University (Russia)
Moscow Museums and Migrants: Problems and Prospects of Interaction
Adaptation of migrants is one of the strategic goals outlined in the Strategy of the State National Policy of the Russian Federation. The museum network in this case is one of the most effective tools for its implementation. That is why the theme of migration is increasingly penetrating the museum space throughout the world in recent years.
However, Russian museums, as a rule, ignore this aspect of their socio-cultural work. Despite the fact that the Russian Federation occupies the third place in the world in terms of the absolute number of migrants, Russian museums continue to exhibit amazing inertia. In addition to the fact that there is no specialized museum dedicated to the phenomenon of migration in our country, other museums diligently avoid this topic. The paper describes and analyzes the results of a field study on the relationship between migrants and museums. The authors refute the traditional misconception that migrants ignore Russian museums and, accordingly, museum programs for them are unpromising. This research is based on interviews with 400 applicants to the FMS Moscow Commission for the recognition of a foreign citizen or stateless person the Russian language carrier.
We create a map of Moscow museums through the eyes of migrants. The work presents the preferences of migrants in the museum area, their strategies for visiting museum institutions, the main problems when visiting a museum. The study showed that migrants, at least in Moscow, are a fairly promising audience for museums. Despite the relatively specific preferences in choosing a museum institution, in general, their strategies for communicating with museums do not fundamentally differ from the general Moscow ones. However, it should be noted that the creation of museum projects that touch on the topic of migration could give this audience additional motivation to visit and form a community loyal to the museum.
Helinä Rautavaara Museum (Finland)
The Hows of Truth-telling and the Voices of “Future Curators”: Lessons from Indigenous Mexico
In the era of fake news it is timely to carry on the truth-telling tradition of museums. And in a world where strong national narratives are given a too important a space in many different media globally, collaborative curatorship with minorities and the polyvocality of exhibiting practices are more important than ever. In order to attack prejudices and stereotypes, it is necessary to have a good forum in order to set the parties involved on an equal level. Trust is a prerequisite for starting a joint exhibition planning process. To give a voice to someone or a group previously ignored or excluded from a discussion one cannot be sure if the speaker is able to accept the invitation.
Museums in Nordic democratic countries are often too afraid to operate positive discrimination in order to create trust and have a good ground for cooperation with previously colonized groups. According to postcolonial critiques on museums and following results from indigenous peoples' seminars on heritage conservation, one should be explicit in defining the terminology used, and avoid being humorous or ironical, unless this is explained well. Otherwise there might be space for misinterpretations.
I will, as an example, make a reference to my experience in visiting in 2017 different ethnographic exhibitions with three Mexican Wixárika teachers who did not have previous experience of museums. The paper will outline how they perceived the facts presented, and if they felt their voice was included in the object vitrines, exhibition text panels and graphics, telling the stories about the Wixárika.
Jason Baird Jackson
Mathers Museum of World Cultures (USA)
Lessons from a Partnership Linking a Network of Chinese and American Museums of Ethnography
Beginning in 2013, three American museums of ethnography began partnering with three peer institutions in Southwest China. Undertaken under the auspices of a larger joint project (2007-present) being pursued by the China Folklore Society and the American Folklore Society, this museum-focused sub-project is now in its second phase. In the effort’s first phase (2013-2016), the partners researched and co-produced a bilingual traveling exhibition and bilingual catalogue, both titled Quilts of Southwest China. They also pursued staff exchanges, hosted two binational conferences on museum ethnography and heritage policies and practices, co-assembled and documented new museum collections, and pursued a range of spin-off publications, exhibitions, and convenings. In the sub-project’s current phase (2017-2019), four of the six original partners are building on previous experiences traveling and working together to begin more in-depth ethnographic field research. This research is being undertaken in further partnership with local eco-museums affiliated with two local minority communities in China’s Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region. The current multilingual, multi-institutional ethnographic work is focused on local textile practices in northern Guangxi and the ways that heritage practices such as eco-museum development, cultural heritage tourism, and master artist designations are impacting them. A series of training and research gatherings, including an additional binational conference, are accompanying four fieldwork trips.
In line with the orienting questions posed by the conference organizers, I will use the ongoing work and past experiences of this US/Chinese network to reflect on ways that the partners have gained a deeper understanding of differing national and local museum cultures and on how they are now attempting to diversify the production of ethnographic knowledge in varied museum contexts, including through engagements with research partners in the local communities whose lifeways and experiences are being investigated and also reflected through new co-assembled collections. My discussion will also bear on the conference’s special interest in how “knowledge and power” might be “productively shared” in collaborative research projects linking quite varied museums working in different disciplinary, national, governmental, and institutional contexts at different scales and with different missions. While focused on lessons and experiences associated with these conference themes, I will touch on other aspects of our work together that may also prove applicable to other partnership projects in museum ethnography, including such issues as funding, translation, coordination, and staffing. My reflections arise from my work as director of one of the partner museums and co-PI for the current phase of work.
Anna Vestergaard Jørgensen
SMK – The National Gallery of Denmark and University of Copenhagen (Denmark)
The Museum and its Discontents. Rethinking the Museum through Discomforting Affects
This paper discusses the work by French-Algerian artist Kader Attia (b. 1970) in relation to “colonial discomfort” in European museums – primarily with a focus on ethnographic collections. The paper asks, how painful affects might point towards new (discomforting) futures for museums.
European museums are institutions that in a complex way are both part of larger societal structures of the experience economy and the idea of the good life – and at the same time can and do work with the discomforting. That is, the things we do not expect, the things and stories that queer and twist our perception of society, make us uneasy.
This paper will explore the works of French-Algerian artist Kader Attia, who often works with ethnographic collections and objects in his practice. In works such as Dispossession (2013) and The Repair (2012), Attia suggests how aesthetic and affective connections can be made between historic colonialism, it’s physical and emotional pain, and contemporary times. With a starting point in works by Attia, this paper argues that aesthetic practices can be used to open towards the affect of colonial objects and collections within museums – something that might otherwise remain hidden in these objects. The paper thus asks: What kind of discomforting and painful affect does Attia’s work afford? And how might we think differently about museums in the future if they are conceived of as places of discomfort and pain, rather than places of happiness?
Tone Cecilie Simensen Karlgård
Museum of Cultural History, University of Oslo (Norway)
Escaping King Leopold’s Ghost – Shifting Positions and Shared Knowledge Production
During a cooperative project between persons from the Congolese milieu in Norway and a group of Museum employees, focusing on how to activate the Congolese collection, a conflict arose regarding whether and how to represent the Belgian Congo/the Colonial period. The Museum’s Congo collection is mainly based on objects donated by Norwegians working for King Leopold’s administration, thus museum employees wanted to highlight this particular historical period and its consequences for Congo. The Congolese partners argued against this, contending that such a perspective was a typical European perspective on Congo’s historical past. They wanted to emphasize what they saw as Congolese cultural heritage. The Colonial dimension was obviously less significant in this context. An emphasis on king Leopold’s rule would represent the interest of a Norwegian museum milieu and its general audience.
How does the framing of cultural history -impact on knowledge-production and what happens when conflicts and discussions over historical and cultural representations arise? Cultural history is constantly in the making while in a Scandinavian post-colonial tradition, there seems to be an implicit agreement on how to disseminate the “Congo”. The museum employees position indicates that their perspective is embedded in a desire to confess a colonial guilt through a self-critical and thereby ethno- and Eurocentric point of view. The Congo collection could certainly be activated so as to convey knowledge about Leopold’s rule, but the Congolese objects have also been imagined, produced and used in Congolese societies and cultures. For the Congolese partners the collection represented “materialized memories” about everyday and ritual life. This was the point the Congolese partners insisted on and which they wanted to work from.
How to identify useful ways to negotiate taken-for-granted perspectives and acknowledge that misunderstandings may arise due to different socio-cultural positionings and points of view, that is, different forms of knowledge-production and different concerns?
How to facilitate collaborative working processes incorporating both a shared reflexive perspective? Attentive to the above questions, the aim of this paper is to initiate a discussion on how to better produce and manage collaborative exhibition projects where museum employees and members of source communities can negotiate a common platform of knowledge together. At this point, writing the abstract, focus group discussions about these questions are being scheduled with participants with partners from the Congolese milieu in Norway. The outcome of these discussions shall be incorporated in the final workshop presentation/paper.
Ethnographic Museum, University of Zurich (Switzerland)
Why Do African and European Museums Cooperate? Re-imagining a Paradigm of Knowledge Production and Partnership
Alongside university and research institutes, journals and books, publishing houses and repositories, museums are important engines of research and knowledge production. How is the potential of transcontinental networks to be assessed in this respect? Why do African and European museums cooperate, what are the motives, opportunities, and pitfalls of transcontinental cooperation? This paper intends to present a current trilateral museum research and exhibition partnership between Africa and Europe and to analyse the premises, conditions and modalities of the engagement with the involved partner institutions. It elaborates on knowledge production and dissemination as well as on the (pre-)conditions and requirements of larger long-term partnerships. Which research forms, outcomes and outputs are conceivable? How about publications, exhibitions, databases, digital copies, websites, staff exchange and tandems? What goes along with collaborations and "knowledge partnerships" between institutions in the South and the North?
Until now, cooperation is mainly unidirectional, displaying European exhibitions in African museums or aiming to coach African institutions in fields such as conservation, restoration, or curating, generally following a development approach. Only a few collaborations demonstrate a joint practical implementation of projects, taking into consideration the expectations, goals and needs of all the stakeholders, sharing project management responsibilities, guaranteeing collective decision-making processes and equal access to shared resources.
Today, there is an awareness of the importance of academic and museographic partnerships and a requirement for ethnological museums to concern themselves with contemporary – as well as historical – issues, which goes far beyond the museum sector. Furthermore, in recent years, many actors have increasingly begun realising how important it is to undertake colonial-era provenance research. At the same time, debates about immigration into Europe, as well as the role and position of ethnological museums in relation to this, are intensifying. All of these points consistently highlight the significance of international perspectives on present-day ethnological collections. Against this background, the aim of this presentation is to invigorate a new museological subfield of study highlighting transcontinental museum cooperation.
Concordia University (Canada)
Awkward Objects of Genocide: Vernacular Arts and Holocaust Memory in and beyond Polish Ethnographic Museums
Eastern Europe witnessed 14 million deaths between 1933 and 1945. The local impact of such widespread and wanton killing as it reverberated in towns, villages, and communities over the subsequent decades is just beginning to be considered, prompted by new scholarly attention to East European “Bloodlands” (Snyder 2010) the “Holocaust by Bullets” (Desbois 2010), the proliferation of smaller ghettoes and camps, and the excruciatingly intimate relations of betrayal, killing, expropriation, and rescue. It can be assumed that every community produced artistic responses to that traumatic memory, but Holocaust scholarship’s new Eastward and grassroots turns have yet to attend seriously to vernacular arts of witness. In the field of Holocaust artistic production, local, “naïve” artists may have been the most prolific group attempting to represent the events they witnessed. A unique body of such works, produced in the postwar People’s Republic of Poland (especially in the 1960s and 70s), however, remain scattered in ethnographic museum collections, often awkwardly categorized due to disciplinary taxonomies that treat folk art as “timeless” rather than historical, and the reluctance of curators to touch on uncomfortable subjects.
These objects have been both over-determined and overlooked due to the constraints imposed by the communist authorities who animated their production, the disciplinary terms of “folk art,” and their having been kept – though rarely displayed – in Polish ethnographic museums with ethno-national mandates. While depicting the Nazi genocide, they have never been seen as relevant to Jewish experience, though they tell complex, unsettling Holocaust stories. The objects are uncanny: at times deeply moving, at others grotesque, they can also be disturbing for the ways they impose Catholic idioms on Jewish suffering via symbolic forms like a Pietà or a Nazi crematorium recalling a nativity crèche; upend accepted roles of victim, perpetrator, and bystander; or incorporate desecrated Jewish sacred texts – as well as for the erroneous mythologies that may be projected onto them as memorial objects in the present. They are difficult to understand without engaging the Polish, Jewish, and German “communities of implication” (Lehrer 2018) that together constituted their necessary symbolic, affective, and commercial contexts.
Based on collections, archival, ethnographic, and oral-historical research, this paper explores how such "art naïve” can be curated to productively and progressively trouble Holocaust art history, ethnographic museology, and received cultural memory. Examples will be drawn from the exhibition Awkward Objects of Genocide, which will open at the Kraków Ethnographic Museum in Poland in November 2018.
British Museum (UK)
Can there be Comfort in Collaboration? Considering the Impact of Community Partnerships on Museum Practice at the British Museum
Museums are beginning to embrace a sense of polyvocality in the way they interpret and tell stories about their collections. They are also thinking more about how they generate knowledge about their collections ‘with’ and not always simply ‘for’ their audiences. This is sometimes done through consultation with stakeholders, through the handing over of curatorial authority to non-traditional partners or through working in collaboration with communities. These partnerships can be complicated and often ask for a disruption of roles and a rethinking of museum practice but have been proven to aid in the quest to democratise and make museums more accessible and relevant to today’s society.
This presentation asks, using examples from the British Museum, London, how museums can make proper ‘space’ for participation work where the production of knowledge and the creation of more nuanced and stakeholder-led narratives can be genuinely collaborative. It asks how we can challenge ourselves to think about multiples ways of knowing and to consider how we create and also communicate information about our collections in this more open way. It asks how you embrace the discomfort and disruption of collaborative work to create valuable relationships with those who will both challenge and help the museum to be transparent and relevant to today’s society. The presentation will also address how working with communities can lead to a reimaging of how historic ethnographic collections can be used to highlight contemporary issues, relevant and pressing to both the collections cultural stakeholders and museum visitors, such as climate change, the role of family and the importance of keeping traditional cultural practices alive when you away from your ‘home’.
Davis Design Museum, University of California (USA)
Gateway Science Museum, California State University (USA)
Reclaiming Diversity: Curiosity and the Layered Exhibition
Wandering through a seventeenth century cabinet of curiosities, the viewer was struck by the diversity of objects and natural phenomena. Regardless of their knowledge base, the viewer found an access point through curiosity. Some of today’s museum exhibits offer little to the curious mind when confronted with predictable templates hemmed in by disciplinary boundaries and conventional display methods. In nature, ecosystems thrive with complexity and are vulnerable to collapse when they lack biodiversity. If heterogeneous systems succeed, why are so many museum exhibitions approached thinly with a single discipline, few display modalities, and a simple design aesthetic. Can cross-disciplinary exhibits offer a wider spectrum of visitors a more engaging experience?
It’s Bugged: The Role of Insects in Design is a cross-disciplinary exhibition developed by the Design Museum at the University of California, Davis (UCD). The exhibit brought together ethnographic textiles from the Design Museum’s collection, insect specimens from the UCD Bohart Museum of Entomology, commissioned insect-inspired artworks, and supportive media to show how insects are used in the manufacture and design of textiles. Objects from both collections were displayed in conventional ways individually, but as a whole, presented an unconventional grouping. The exhibition offered visual variety, unusual juxtapositions of objects, and content for the streaker, stroller, and studier. The exhibition design itself was key to supporting the underlying concept as the gallery space was turned into a hexagonal shape to mimic the ingenuity of a beehive. Textiles, insect specimens, and artworks all worked together to tell the story, and all were given equal footing in the exhibit.
The layered and cross-disciplinary approach of It’s Bugged traces a lineage of other successful manifold exhibitions including: Frogs (Exploratorium, 1999), Devices of Wonder (Getty Museum, 2001), Jellies: Living Art (Monterey Bay Aquarium, 2007), and Homelands: How Women Made the West (Autry National Center, 2010). Each of these exhibitions drew on content from multiple disciplines in arts, humanities, and sciences; used a variety of display techniques; presented objects, artworks, and specimens in equal measure; and the richness of content was empathetic to a spectrum of visitors, reflecting the diversity of who walks through our museums.
In natural systems, diversity is favored over scarcity and simplicity, so why then do we not seek this complexity in our galleries? The authors propose that cross-disciplinary layered exhibitions are more relevant, accessible, and engaging to a wider range of visitors and provide a path towards more successful exhibition experience.
National Museums of Kenya (Kenya)
Knowledge and Power: Objectification of Representations Associated with Site Museums
In recent years Kenya has seen a rise of interest in the conservation and presentation of heritage sites, alongside a movement from indigenous people continuously pressing for exhibitions of their traditional stories in National Museums and heritage site museums. However, more often, folklore associated with these heritage sites are sometimes twisted to sustain group cohesion. Numerous interested groups try to co-opt “positive” narratives that reflect their group history, culture, sense of ownership, association and teachings. But as heritage professionals, do we have the power to decontextualize such narratives that challenge “progress” and “tradition” in unhealthy tension? Are these narratives by “community” members informed by what Andrea Witcomb’s refers to as “group allegiance, own individual sense of identity, social status, educational backgrounds, geographical affinities or own political views on the issue of multiculturalism…” This paper will explore changing interpretation and representational trends relating to folklore associated with traditional heritage sites in Kenya and how such interpretations associated with site museums are gradually being transformed to sound “logical and objective” in line with contemporary “beliefs.” If this is the case then, the question arises, is the intangible cultural heritage endangered? New museology trends draw among others on anthropological and historical approaches to museum work, emphasizing the collaborative nature of museums and communities, the importance of multiple voices, and the struggle for inclusivity in “the recognition of the rights of peoples to be included in and consulted about the presentation and preservation of their heritage.” The paper will interrogate these issues through a consideration of various case studies with reference to heritage site museums and how National Museums of Kenya endeavours to “lift up the stories of the people who are struggling to protect the living universe for the future,” through museum exhibitions. But do those in power see such complexities of heritage site museums “producing a notion of community rather than simply representing it.”
National Museum of Egyptian Civilization (Egypt)
Is it time for new approach at Ethnographic museums in Egypt: A Case Study
The Ethnographic Museum as a social and educational institution attempts to engage its communities and for that purpose digital technology is one of the best opportunities in decades to really reach and engage visitors with different interests to study, explore and enjoy the collections throughout their lives. This paper outlines how, by integrating digital technology in the museum environment, museums can generate new values to objects and collections, making things possible that would not have been possible in the past, or at least very difficult especially at historical sites and regarding damaged or unfinished objects.
Despite the importance of Egyptian Ethnographic museums in enriching the educational curriculum, there is a major problem they face, a lack of visits by Egyptian students to those museums, which may be due to economic, political, geographic or other factors. Egypt has about 166 various types of museums, including the Ministry of Antiquities, Irrigation, Agriculture, Transport, Aviation, Higher Education, private companies, and some NGOs. Although these museums exhibit different aspects of Egyptian cultural heritage, many of them are still unknown to school students, due in part at east to the barriers noted above.
In an effort to break down those barriers and find some simple solutions for those critical problems, I launched a museological initiative to engage schools in the museum environment. It is called My Museum in Your Classroom and engages students in virtual field trips (distance tours), running in museums and archaeological sites. It is carried out by Curators or archaeologists (guest speakers), who speak to educational institutions by using a Skype app, that aims to remove geographic, economic, political, and disabilities barriers to education through the innovative use of technology in museums, archaeological sites and classrooms.
Overall this paper aims to highlight the importance of using digital technologies in engaging communities and educational institutions in museum environment in Egypt. It shows how the Egyptian museums applied different kinds of digital technology such as virtual reality, augmented reality and mixed reality, for educational, research and documentation purposes. The paper aims to review the collaboration between the Ministry of Antiquities and Microsoft in (my museum in your classroom initiatives) discussing the initiative objectives, procedures, outcomes and the challenges we face.
Káren Elle Gaup
The Norwegian Museum of Cultural History (Norway)
Re-imagining a Collection in the Global Contemporary: How the Bååstede Repatriation Project May Benefit Indigenous Museums Worldwide
The Bååstede repatriation project involves transferring almost 2000 Sami objects from the collection in Norsk Folkemuseum to six Sami museums as part of a process of discussion, mutual agreement and cooperation. The project has now reached a preliminary conclusion, although most likely this project may become just a first stage in a more long-term development of relations between national and indigenous museums. Still, the conclusion of the project in its present form may invite reflection on how the process has been carried out and to what degree the results have been satisfying for all participants. It is also an occasion to reflect on what relevance this project can have for other repatriation issues around the world. The most immediate value may be for the Sami in neighbouring countries Sweden, Finland and Russia, but the project may also be an inspiration for other indigenous people whose material heritage is preserved only in museums far from their communities, whether in the national capital or in a faraway country, often as the result of a colonial or imperialist situation. The presentation aims at discussing various scenarios and proposing some guidelines for future action in the field.
Malmö University (Sweden)
“But what can I DO there?” – Discussing Affordances of Digital Museum Space
Museums are societal institutions often funded from public money and increasing needing to justify their existence. Museums engage in various kinds of activities focussing on the preservation and analysis of culture, education, societal inclusion, community building and so on, increasingly also in digital spaces. In each of these, they orient themselves more or less towards publics, forming unique constellations between museum repertoires and people. Digital space is increasingly seen as an opportunity to engage current and potential visitors with museum activities, but while vast amounts of digital material is being made available by museums, there is still lack of conceptual understanding about the kinds of audience engagement envisioned. In design research, the concept of affordances, originally coined by Gibson (1979), but usefully developed by Norman (2013) points to the idea that artefacts have preferred uses conceptualised by the designers as well as uses perceived by the users of these artefacts. This concept is fruitfully employed also in discussions of digital artefacts, software, websites and social media environments.
This paper proposes a pilot case-study analysis of digital museum space of National Museum of World Culture, which is a Swedish government agency for displaying and bringing to life the various cultures of our world, in particular cultures outside of Sweden. It unites four different museums in different locations in Sweden and there is shared as well as different online spaces. Taking the perspective of perceived affordance, this paper will discuss the preliminary results of audience perception of the digital spaces based on interviews with five different audience members, all residing in Sweden, but representing different ethnic and cultural backgrounds. The results indicate that not all digital museum activities are perceived to be welcoming or helpful in planning a museum visit or understanding a museum’s digital space. The concept of affordance allows theorists to add a new dimension when discussing audience engagement as it takes into account the designerly intentions, the materiality of the digital spaces and the audience perception. The paper proposes a model of affordances of digital spaces as a useful tool to argue for and support digital spaces in museums that can support audience engagement.
Estonian National Museum (Estonia)
Displaying Cultural Heritages with Digital Means: The Case of Estonian National Museum’s Core Exhibition “Encounters”
This presentation asks what is the role of digital media in displaying and interpreting multiple and continuously changing cultural heritages in a museum exhibition. It makes a detailed inquiry into what can be done with digital tools and questions when is it reasonable to use them? The presentation questions whether, if at all, digital media helps to make exhibitions more dynamic and dialogical? In the paper, I shall describe how and for what reasons we used digital solutions in the Estonian National Museum’s core exhibition “Encounters”. I will focus on their functions and show, based on our experience, some opportunities that they offer and some threats that they pose.
bfe - Federal Association for Freelance Ethnologists (Germany)
The New Weltmuseum Wien and Some Inherent Conflict Zones as Future Challenges
In ethnographic museums, the debates about colonial times and the origins of the museum collections started long before the 21st century. But, the questions about “Who owns the items in the ethnographic museums” became more virulent after the official offer from the French president Emanuel Macron in March 2018. Since then, in the media, there are more and more articles about the demands of people belonging to different nations, to get their historical items back from the collections in the museums. In this situation we have to differentiate different levels of consideration: the history of the collections – if there is any documentation, the presentation of the objects in the exhibitions and the approaches to collaborate with the countries of origin on “who is allowed to speak?” At this point, the museum 4.0 comes into consideration. How can digital media be used to open access to an international public, when for example the historical items cannot be moved around because of age and fragility? How is a museum able to install means of collaboration and participation globally?
In this paper I will concentrate on three main questions, which are dominant in the global discussions about ethnographic museums in the future: museum 4.0, participation and provenience research. My example will be the new Austrian Weltmuseum Wien (World Museum Vienna), which was opened last October 2017. The new concept of the museum is the combination of a classical regional presentation together with so-called “concept halls” in which actual questions concerning colonialism, politics of collection and ethnographic theories are put on stage through a special scenography. The paper will show the conflict zones within this challenging approach.
University of Westminster (UK)
Multisensory Engagement and the Transcultural Object
This paper asks how a museum can facilitate audiences from diverse national and cultural backgrounds to relate to one specific cultural object using multisensory tools.
This research was carried out at the Arab Museum of Modern Art, (MATHAF) Qatar, by interdisciplinary researchers using qualitative methodologies through interviews and focus groups and examined experiences of family groups of diverse cultural backgrounds and nationalities, Arabic and English speakers. It revealed how visitors’ cultural memory and trans-cultural connections were activated through a bespoke activity designed around an iconic artwork that represented cultural identity in Qatar.
The research showed that tactile and auditory experiences led to a trans-generational involvement in which different forms of cultural knowledge were exchanged. Visitors who were Qatari, from Arab countries and international visitors from outside the Middle East all made personal connections to the artwork that related to their cultural knowledge either of Qatar or of their home countries. The research concluded that visitors made cultural connections on three levels: ‘Immediate cultural connections’; ‘Transcultural connections’; and ‘Comparative connections’.
The research used audience reception theory to explore how for the visitors cultural meanings are purposefully created rather than given and arrived at through a complex process in which participants consider what is before them (in a process reception theorist Gretchen Barbatis phrases as ‘how’ rather than ‘what’).
In this research the experience of the visitors was not just in visually engagement but involved audio description, scent, and a range of physical activities. While we can think of a museum activity as being encoded by the institution and decoded by the visitors, this shows us that both the encoding and the decoding are highly complex and that they ‘polysemic text’ that they encountered was not just that artwork but the entire experience of the multisensory activity.
The research concluded that using a multi-sensory approach enabled visitors to engage with cultural objects with greater complexity and subtlety that they might otherwise have done, and enabled them to read an artefact from their own perspective. While this research was carried out in an art museum the research posits that this approach could be viable in any context where cultural artefacts are on display.
Australian National Maritime Museum (Australia)
Migration, Memory and Material Culture: The Australian National Maritime Museum in the Global Contemporary
ICOM-ICME 2018 poses the question of whether traditional and progressive approaches to interpretation in museums are mutually exclusive, or whether it is possible to move beyond such binary positions. The Australian National Maritime Museum in Sydney, an institution traditionally associated with ‘men and boats,’ also holds an evocative collection relating to immigration and the diverse cultures who fled Europe after the Second World War to a place that was, in the words of one Estonian migrant, ‘as far from Europe as possible.’* This paper will consider the Museum’s collection of migrant cultural heritage through the framework of the global contemporary. It will examine the intersection between ethnographic collections and migration history at the Australian National Maritime Museum, with reference to contemporary museological discourses on research, outreach, sustainability and digital technology.
The paper will focus on the work of Croatian naïve artist Gina Sinozich, using it as a case study to explore the Museum’s past approaches to interpretation through a variety of exhibitions, collections and public programs. It will also discuss the Museum’s present challenges and future opportunities in the context of broader conversations about multiculturalism, identity and belonging – key concerns of the global contemporary. This is particularly critical as the Museum transitions from a traditional material culture-based model of interpretation, towards one that embraces new digital technologies as well as notions of emotion, empathy and affect, in order to engage a diverse global audience and embody a multiplicity of voices.
The paper will address a range of questions relating to traditional and progressive interpretive practices at the Australian National Maritime Museum. How do we represent migrant histories when there might be few personal objects to tell their stories, especially in the case of refugees displaced by conflict or persecution? How do we capture those intangible memories of the migration experience that are often difficult to convey through objects? How can we document complex diasporic relationships with homelands and hostlands, and what is the role of new media in helping to articulate these shared stories? And how can we incorporate cross-cultural dialogues and intergenerational narratives, to reflect current concerns with social inclusion, mutual heritage, and the mobility of people and things in the global contemporary?
*Kim Tao, ‘As Far from Europe as Possible: the Talmet Family from Tallinn,’ Signals 111 (Jun–Aug 2015): 68–71.
Goldsmiths, University of London (UK)
On “a Discourse Related to the Historical Dynamics of its Time” (Araeen)
What kind of (re-)imagining does the idea of the ‘global contemporary’ call for and from whom? Is this, perhaps, but another variation on the neo-colonial hegemonies that constantly aim to restore the universals with which they are themselves identified? In this context, is it perhaps curious that the new millennium should see the return of the ‘encyclopaedic’ museum (as Hartwig Fischer likes to call the British Museum)? ‘Re-imaging’ here with Rasheed Araeen, for example, how might one understand the newly conceived museum of ‘world cultures’ as offering a post-colonial answer to its own history as a ‘representative’ institution? Is this Enlightenment echo a sufficient ‘contemporary’ response to distinguish the museum in relation to both globalisation and digitisation? Taking up the ‘Eurocentric African problem’, as the Benin artist Meschac Gaba called it (in conversation with Chris Dercon), my presentation will explore the question of art in mediating the imaginary of museum ethnography, as it seeks to animate the encounter between visitors and exhibits within these museums’ so-called African Galleries specifically.
School of Anthropology and Museum Ethnography, University of Oxford (UK)
From Ethnographic Present to Presence: Re-imagining the Siberian Collections at the Pitt Rivers Museum
Ethnographic museums have been theorized as ‘civic laboratories’ (Bennett 2005) and ‘contact zones’ (Clifford 1997) acknowledging their role as sites of governance but also as sites of friction and collaboration. However, complexity brought forth through such conceptualization is not easily communicated to museums’ diverse audiences who are faced with spatially and temporally distant collections. Through a case study of Siberian collections at the Pitt Rivers Museum, Oxford, this paper will examine how ethnographic fieldwork, collections research, and museum display practices can be brought into an effective collaboration to convey historical ethnographic collections’ multifaceted histories and to connect museum audiences with broader issues prevalent among contemporary source communities.
I probe the potential museum collections have to make present the complex and layered narratives inherent in historical ethnographic fieldwork. Drawing from recent studies in visual anthropology that emphasize the potential of ‘presence’ in the study of museum photographs (Edwards 2015, Morton and Geismar 2015, Pinney 2005) as ‘a way of thinking experience back into the historical equation’ (Edwards 2015: 242), I argue that museum objects as well as photographs speak beyond the evidence or representation they were intended to convey. Re-thinking objects in the Maria Czaplicka collection from the 1914-1915 Siberian expedition as traces of field experiences, I show how unpacking the history of the expedition can activate objects in the museum to convey different pasts and offer a platform for engagements with contemporary source communities and museum audiences.
Specifically, I argue that the Czaplicka collection can make present the notion of ‘global Arctic’ which as “contact zone”, both imaginative and embodied, remains an on-going and contested affair’ (Dodds 2017: 3). Historical ethnographic collections thus hold potential to anchor references to contemporary materials and can speak to current issues such as climate change. The question is how such affordances can be made evident in a museum setting and how can audiences be encouraged to engage with them?
Tema Q, Department for Studies of Social Change and Culture (ISAK), Linköping University (Sweden)
"It's the right who belong in a museum": Ethnographies of Popular Movements in the Museum Context
Museums as institutions of modernity have a specific role in the process of knowledge production and power redistribution within societies, first of all by empowering certain groups and discourses and making them visible. However, there is also a power in “silent voices” that have been suppressed for a long time. Today it becomes possible to use museums as a platform for lifting up the issues of diversity and heterogeneity. In this paper I am investigating a specific case of a museum planned from scratch and the multilayered power relations within this case.
Museum of Movements in Malmö, Sweden, is a project which was initially introduced in 2016 as a national museum for democracy and migration. The project aims to address a broad range of subjects, including migration, human rights, popular movements and civil society-based activism. A feasibility study has asserted the importance of establishing this future institution in a form of museum as an open, safe and credible public space which can engender open discussion around difficult issues.
The political importance of the project was debated in Swedish media which brought out some points in the public conception of what museums actually are. As an (extreme) example, a concern was expressed by the right-wing political party Swedish Democrats that such a museum will become a “political instrument for multiculturalism and will promote further high immigration rates to Sweden”. From the other side of the political spectrum, a socialist writer Staffan Jacobson states in his blog that “it’s not the left but the right who belong in a museum”.
There is, however, a deep controversy in the future museum concept as an open and inclusive platform: Should the scope of popular movements include, in addition to human rights activists, for example far-right movements or protesters against abortion? Should the museum for democracy and migration talk about non-democratic developments in our societies? How to discuss these issues in a space which provides a certain discourse and constructs its subjects?
By employing Tony Bennett’s notion of museums as assemblages, I aim to look into the museum and its inherent structures as the reflection of what is included and what is excluded in the exhibition displays in relation to different networks.
Pauline van der Zee
Ghent University Museum (Belgium)
How to Engage in Decolonizing the Museum?
In the book "Museum van het Gevoel" ("The Empathy Museum"), Olga Van Oost (2016, 15-23) states that there is a growing moral responsibility for museums, and that curators incorporate a mediating role in this. Museums have, more than ever, a task in stimulating critical reflection and shaping citizenship. But it is uncertain whether museums will take on this challenge. It is a choice that demands courage and can have far-reaching consequences for the curator who chooses to follow this course. Even more than being an “institutional choice”, it is often the individual choice of the curator. The “conditions of engagement” are a personal matter and not always welcomed by the museum, as museums often do not yet have this tradition and still want to rationalize their collections, histories and roots.
This topic was also discussed at the American Indian Workshop titled “Arrows of Time: Narrating the Past and Present” held in Ghent, Belgium (2018). Researchers, concerned with topics related to the Native Peoples of North America, noted that the objects' original context of their cultural heritage are often being appropriated and get, yet again, "colonized" in European museums. In this way these objects lose their strength.
Concerned museum curators therefore want to stimulate an open dialogue between people and communities. This paper concerns my attempts to register the Ethnographic Collections of Ghent University, as part of the larger picture of decolonization of museums.
Decolonization requires a continuous process of awareness about how colonialism works. Objects can act as intermediaries in this process. They are not only a remnant of the past, but also have a certain meaning in the present. And therefore they may become the keys to more openness and may lead to a greater awareness from which more mutual understanding can grow.
But decolonization goes beyond objects in collections. Therefore this is also a plea for plurality in thinking: we can learn from others. Diversity in thinking holds an appreciation for being different. When curators commit themselves to taking up explicit positions in their museums and play intermediary roles, the moral stature of museums grows. That is why I created a manifesto based on Kant's motto: "Dare to think!" My starting point, however, is: "Dare to think differently!"
Ethnographic Open Air Museum of Latvia (Latvia)
Researching and Communicating Ethnographic Collections – Experiments and Shared Knowledge
This paper will present a case of the research and its communication in a museum. In 2014, a scientific collection catalogue about milk processing vessels was published by the Ethnographic Open Air Museum of Latvia. When carrying out the research for the catalogue I realized that I lack almost any practical knowledge about the milk processing and the specific functions of the ethnographic objects I am researching. In order to gain real knowledge about the subject of my research it was decided to make several practical experiments in cooperation with pupils of an art school. Children were documenting and participating in the process itself with all those failures that are common in experiments. After this experience it was not only knowledge of milk processing for the research that was gained but also a really inspiring feeling about communicating the research of the museum. On the bases of this experiment and research itself a program for small groups (for example families) “Milk Works” was developed, as well as other public activities.
The three hour long program “Milk Works” takes place in one of the open-air exposition’s buildings in the museum and is organized by me and a colleague from the Department for Communication. The participants of the program do all the processing work by themselves – from milk to butter and cheese. The program is not supposed to be just a demonstration nor a way just to become more educated about the milk processing, but primarily a way to share and exchange the knowledge and different experiences of the organizers and participants, and for some participants – even kind of waking up of forgotten memories.
The experience of this project raises questions about research and communication in a museum. Does the theoretical research give enough knowledge? Should the museum experts always play the role of an expert – is it adequate and sufficient for today’s society? Do the visitors need more information about ethnography or is the exhibition better understood as a tool or a starting theme of a conversation far beyond the boundaries of ethnography? Is it all about the past or even more – about the present or the future?
The paper will not answer those questions, but reveal the experience from a young researcher’s perspective.