Etnografski muzeji se bodo bolj zavedali različnih skupnosti

Intervju s kustosom Michelom Leejem

Tina Palaić

Photo Michel Lee 2

Michel Lee

Michel Lee je kustos za kitajske in korejske zbirke v Nacionalnih muzejih kultur sveta na Švedskem. Pred zadnjo reorganizacijo ustanove je bil direktor Muzeja daljnovzhodnih antikvitet (Museum of Far Eastern Antiquities) v Stockholmu, ki je eden od muzejev – poleg Etnografskega muzeja in Muzeja Mediterana in bližnjevzhodnih antikvitet v Stockholmu ter Muzeja kultur sveta v Gothenburgu – v konzorciju Nacionalnih muzejev kultur sveta.

 

 

Diplomiral je iz antropologije na univerzi George Washington v Washingtonu, D.C. Po diplomi se je zaposlil na antropološkem oddelku ustanove Smithsonian (Smithsonian Institution) v Nacionalnem muzeju naravne zgodovine. Nato se je preselil v London, kjer je magistriral iz zgodovine umetnosti in arheologije na Šoli za orientalske in afriške študije Univerze v Londonu. V Muzeju vzhodno-azijske umetnosti v Bathu je bil kustos in tudi direktor, po tej zaposlitvi pa se je preselil na Švedsko.

Michela sem spoznala v maju 2016 v Marseillu v Franciji na enem od srečanj v sklopu projekta SWICH, kjer sem predstavila svoje sodelovanje z Rominjami, ki je potekalo v okviru projekta Dostopnost do kulturne dediščine ranljivim skupinam v Slovenskem etnografskem muzeju. Oba romska skupnost zelo zanima, zato sva takoj delila najine poglede in izkušnje s sodelovanjem z Romi pri muzejskem delu. Kmalu se je pokazalo, da naju druži še več zanimivih tem – identitetne politike, diaspore, vloga muzejev v sodobni družbi. Najini pogovori so od takrat postali precej dinamični in odločila sva se, da nekaj tem, ki naju pestijo, predstaviva v intervjuju. Pogovarjala sva se konec februarja 2017 v Stockholmu. Seveda sem pogovor začela s SWICH-em!


Tina: Začniva s projektom SWICH! Njegov namen je ponovno premisliti vlogo etnografskih muzejev v današnji družbi ter razviti inovativne in bolj inkluzivne prakse v teh muzejih. Organizacija Nacionalni muzeji kultur sveta, kjer ste zaposleni, je eden od partnerjev v projektu. Kako vidite vašo vlogo?

Michel: Menim, da je naš največji prispevek k projektu delitev izkušenj iz naše, švedske perspektive. SWICH projekt je odličen za evropske muzeje, predvsem etnografske, ki tako ostajajo na tekočem z najnovejšimi muzejskimi praksami v evropskem prostoru. Z različnimi izmenjavami in raznolikimi tipi dialoga projekt krepi muzeje, saj jim omogoča izbrati in uporabiti tiste metode, ki ustrezajo njihovim specifičnim kontekstom. Morda ni vse, kar udeleženci na teh srečanjih povedo, uporabno za švedski kontekst, a je vendarle dobro, da smo seznanjeni s tem, kaj počnejo v drugih muzejih, katere so zanje dobre prakse in kako bi nekatere od njih lahko uporabili v našem muzeju. Zame kot kustosa je to možnost, da se seznanim z različnimi praksami in načini dela z zbirkami in skupnostmi.

Tina: V okviru SWICH-a tako Nacionalni muzeji kultur sveta kot Slovenski etnografski muzej delujeta v sklopu dveh tem: kreativni dialog in digitalne prihodnosti. V sklopu prve teme ste tudi vi sodelovali z umetnico, sedaj pa pripravljate eksperimentalno razstavo. Kakšne so vaše izkušnje?

Michel: Pravzaprav je z umetnico v rezidenci sodelovala druga oseba, zato nisem najboljši sogovornik za pogovor o procesu dela v tem konkretnem primeru. Na podlagi splošnega opazovanja projektov umetnikov v rezidenci, ki sem jih videl v etnografskih muzejih, pa menim, da mnogo obiskovalcev etnografskih muzejev tja ne pride nujno iz istih razlogov in ne sprejema informacij na enake načine, kot to počno obiskovalci umetnostnih muzejev. Sporočila nekaterih umetnikov v rezidenci so pogosto posredovana na bolj abstrakten način, kar občinstvo v umetnostnih muzejih pričakuje, obiskovalci etnografskih muzejev pa ne nujno. Zato si morda ne vzamejo dovolj časa, da bi spremenili svoj miselni okvir, in si razstavljenega ne ogledajo, če je sporočilo predstavljeno na preveč abstrakten način.

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Fotografija je z delavnice ’Vi ste tukaj, zato ker so bili oni tam’ (‘You are here, because they were there’), ki jo je vodila umetnica v rezidenci Jacqueline Hoang Nguyen v sklopu projekta SWICH. Potekala je v Etnografskem muzeju v Stockholmu 17. oktobra 2015. Foto: Tony Sandin.

V pripravo eksperimentalne razstave pa sem zelo vključen. Ta projekt je osvobajajoč v več vidikih, saj ga določa malo vnaprej zastavljenih idej, kaj naj bi bil njegov končni rezultat ali kako do njega priti. Sodelujemo s šolo, ki se nahaja v na Švedskem morda najbolj kulturno raznolikem mestu. Z učenci bomo imeli delavnice, na katerih jih bomo pripravili, da bodo skozi predmete govorili o svojih identitetah. Učenci bodo imeli ključno vlogo pri pripravi razstave, ki bo nekaj časa na ogled na njihovi šoli. To je zame prva razstava, pri kateri imam zgolj minimalen nadzor nad predstavitvijo predmetov. Ja, uokviril bom razstavo z na primer uvodnim tekstom, moja odgovornost bo tudi urejanje, predvsem pa bomo v muzeju zagotovili, da bodo učenci imeli pravilne informacije o predmetih, zato da bodo njihove odločitve o delu z izbranimi predmeti temeljile na znanju in dejstvih. Vendar pa bodo učenci tisti, ki bodo izrazili svoj odnos do predmetov ali zagovarjali svoja stališča. Z izbiro te metode je sam proces dela z učenci ob sodelovanju z ekipo muzejskih pedagogov prav tako pomemben kot končni rezultat tega projekta. Sodelovali bomo tudi s starejšimi in na ta način spodbujali medgeneracijski dialog. Zame je bil ta proces priprave razstave doslej odlična izkušnja, saj delam s predmeti na drugačen način.

Tina: Dekolonizacija, globalizacija in migracije – to so trije ključni procesi, ki v zadnjih nekaj desetletjih korenito spreminjajo evropsko družbo. Kako so po vašem mnenju vplivali na etnografske muzeje kot kulturne institucije in kako na njihove muzejske prakse?

Michel: Etnografski muzeji so bili prvotno izložbe drugih kultur, vendar so te večinoma prikazovali, kot da so v vakuumu. Obiskovalec je zlahka dobil občutek, da so te kulture obstajale same zase – skoraj tako, kot da bi bile čiste kulture. Danes pa s temami migracij in dekolonizacije, ki so v mnogih muzejih postavljene v ospredje dela, muzeje usmerjajo k večjemu vključevanju manjšin in zatiranih glasov, kar jim pomaga prepoznati, da nobena kultura, nobena družbena skupina nikoli ni bila tako izolirana. Med ljudmi je vedno potekala komunikacija, širili so se vplivi, ljudje so se selili. Morda se to ni dogajalo tako hitro ali v tako velikem obsegu kot danes, ampak zagotovo so potekale selitve, bila je komunikacija, delitev informacij, tehnologije … Menim, da je v nekaterih muzejih trenutni poudarek bolj na tematskih kot pa na kulturno ali geografsko zasnovanih razstavah rezultat tega prepoznanja. Kljub temu pa mislim, da kulturno ali geografsko zasnovanih razstav ne smemo opustiti v celoti, saj nam še vedno pomagajo razumeti, od kod prihajamo in kako smo postali, kar danes smo. Pomembno pa je, da razumemo in prepoznamo kompleksnosti in zgodovinske kontekste, ko govorimo o kulturah znotraj specifičnih geografskih lokacij.

Tina: Muzeji se na zahteve sodobnega časa odzivajo z različnimi praksami: digitalizirajo in omogočajo dostop do svojih vsebin na svetovnem spletu; sodelujejo z umetniki, ki v muzejsko prakso prinesejo drugačne perspektive ali muzejske vsebine ustvarjalno interpretirajo; nekateri poskušajo razviti sodelovanje s skupnostmi in ustvarjati razstave skupaj z njimi. Katera muzejska praksa bo po vašem mnenju definirala prihodnost etnografskih muzejev?

Michel: Mislim, da se bodo etnografski muzeji v prihodnosti bolj zavedali skupnosti, ki so povezane z njihovimi zbirkami. Ne bo pa šlo samo za zbirke, temveč tudi za skupnosti, pa naj govorimo o izvornih skupnostih (kjer so bili predmeti zbrani, op. p.)  ali diaspori. Sam vidim veliko dela s skupnostmi v smislu, kako interpretirati predmete in pri odločanju, kaj naj bo reprezentirano za različne ljudi, za različne skupine.

Tina: Dr. Vázquez, ki sva ga poslušala v Leidenu v novembru 2016, je v svojem predavanju razlikoval med ‘kolonizacijo’ in ‘kolonialnostjo’. Čeprav se je kolonizacija tehnično končala v večini držav sveta, pa je kolonialnost danes še prisotna. Izraz se nanaša na preostale učinke kolonizacije, kot so rasizem, diskriminacija, dominacija zahodne perspektive. Kako lahko etnografski muzeji, ki so kot institucije utemeljeni v kolonialni zgodovini, pomagajo razdreti oziroma preseči kolonialnost in v svoje predstavitve vključijo tudi nezahodne perspektive?

Michel: Menim, da je dober način, s katerim lahko pripomoremo k razdiranju kolonialnosti, vključevanje glasov ali različnih mnenj s strani v muzeju predstavljenih skupnosti, katerih perspektive sicer niso vedno predstavljene. Zelo pomembno je priznati, da obstajajo različna mnenja, in jih tudi predstaviti, mislim pa, da ni nujno, da eno mnenje prevlada nad drugim. Zame je pomembno, da različni pogledi, ki jih v muzeju predstavimo, temeljijo na znanju ali dejstvih, če pa ne, jih je treba ustrezno kontekstualizirati. Konflikta ali dane situacije ne moremo zares razumeti, če poznamo le en pogled; poznavanje več mnenj pomeni bolj holistično razumevanje določene situacije. Discipline, kot so zgodovina, umetnostna zgodovina, antropologija, samo poglejmo njihove zgodovine – te vede izhajajo iz perspektive dominantne družbe. Ampak ali to pomeni, da je to narobe, slabo ali sramotno? Mislim, da ne nujno. Seveda muzeji ne smejo promovirati rasizma, diskriminacije ali dominacije, pri pripravi razstav pa morajo biti občutljivi za ta vprašanja. Vendar pa samo zato, ker gre za prevladujoče mnenje, to še ne pomeni nujno, da to mnenje avtomatično pade v eno od teh kategorij. Če ponovim, mislim, da je odpiranje muzejske interpretacije več glasovom dobro. Prepoznavanje in razumevanje, da obstajajo različna mnenja, posamezniku omogoči boljše razumevanje situacije. Nekatera mnenja si morda nasprotujejo in kažejo na izvor konflikta, kar samo razkriva kompleksnosti življenja! Vendar pa so različna mnenja lahko tudi komplementarna in ponujajo boljše, bolj niansirano razumevanje situacije.

Tina: Kako lahko opisano dosežemo v muzejih?

Michel: Danes je zelo pogosto, da muzeji sodelujejo z diasporo ali z izvornimi skupnostmi. Evropski muzeji tradicionalno temeljijo na zahodni akademski perspektivi. Morda nam ni potrebno zavreči vsega, poleg slabega odvreči tudi marsikaj, kar je dobro. Morda lahko še vedno priznavamo muzejsko perspektivo, mogoče jo bo kdo imenoval tradicionalni akademski glas. Ta glas lahko ali pa ne nasprotuje perspektivi skupnosti. Ampak če delamo odprto in spoštljivo z različnimi skupnostmi, se bodo različni glasovi naravno pojavili. Muzeji morajo biti zelo transparentni glede procesa dela s skupnostmi. Na primer, pojasniti morajo, kaj je glas kustosa in zakaj ima on / muzej to perspektivo, kaj je glas skupnosti in zakaj ima ta določeno perspektivo.

Ker Evropa postaja z vsako generacijo bolj raznolika družba, je povsem logično, da ljudje, zaposleni v evropskih muzejih, ta trend odslikavajo. Zaposleni v muzejih v Evropi so verjetno bolj raznoliki, kot so bili kadarkoli doslej. Včasih dobim občutek, da diskusije o reprezentaciji znotraj muzejev izražajo mnenje, da je muzej en in ‘skupnost’ drugi igralec. Včasih pa so glasovi iz skupnosti že prisotni v muzeju v smislu tam zaposlenega. Seveda pa ni samoumevno, da se bodo spremembe zgodile avtomatično. Ljudje morajo delati za spremembo. Vendar pa je raznolikost zaposlenih v muzejih zagotovo tista, ki bo muzejem pomagala, da bodo bolj inkluzivni in da bodo razdirali kolonialnost.

Tina: Lahko z bralci delite vašo dobro prakso sodelovanja s skupnostmi?

Michel: Kar pogosto sodelujem s skupnostmi v naši Dvorani skulptur. Znotraj švedskega konteksta je pogost odpor do tem, povezanih z religijo. Jaz pa mislim, da moramo pri delu s predmeti, ki so bili ustvarjeni kot religiozni predmeti, razumeti vsaj osnove religije. Šele tako lahko razumemo, kako te predmete brati in razumeti – v tem primeru skulpture – na globljem nivoju. Povabili smo budistične menihe in nune iz različnih tradicij, da so izvedli obrede z in okoli kipov v Dvorani skulptur. Na ta način so obiskovalci bolje razumeli, da ti kipi niso samo predmeti. Imajo obredni in družbeni kontekst. Bili naj bi videni skupaj z daritvami. Tisti, ki verujejo, so v interakciji s kipi. Teh stvari obiskovalec običajno v muzejih ne vidi. Muzej so obiskali tudi menihi, ki ustvarjajo skulpture iz masla kot daritev določenim kipom ali božanstvom, ki jih ti kipi predstavljajo. Na ta način smo predstavili tudi vrsto materialne kulture, ki je znotraj muzejskih zbirk zaradi minljive narave materiala ne hranimo. Seveda je konservator pri teh projektih izjemno pomemben, saj pomaga pri pogajanjih, kaj se okoli kipov lahko odvije. Poskušamo kar najbolje ugoditi potrebam verujočih, obenem pa zagotavljamo, da se z vidika konzervatorstva ustrezno poskrbi za predmete.

Posvetitveni obred za kipe iz masla, ki so jih izdelali menihi iz samostana Drikung iz Ladakha v Indiji.  Muzej daljnovzhodnih antikvitet, 2016.

Kadarkoli delam s skupnostmi, je samo-predstavitev izjemno pomembna. Dober dialog je bistven, saj zagotavlja, da obe strani poznata pričakovanja drugega. S strani muzeja je pri sprejemanju te vrste sodelovanja glavni pogoj inkluzivnost. To pomeni, da obred oziroma dogodek ne sme izključiti nikogar. Muzej vedno zagotovi, da skupnosti, s katerimi sodelujemo, razumejo, da je muzej javni prostor in da večina udeležencev dogodka verjetno niso verujoči; ti muzej obiščejo predvsem zato, da obred opazujejo. Še nikoli nisem imel izkušnje s skupino, ki tega ne bi sprejela. In seveda, dogodka se lahko udeležijo tudi verujoči, in ti so dobrodošli, da ga izkusijo kot religiozni dogodek. Čeprav je na Švedskem lahko včasih religija občutljiva tema, so ti budistični dogodki med našimi najbolj obiskanimi. Mislim, da je glavni razlog za to ta, da je budizem v splošnem zamišljanju Zahoda viden v precej pozitivni luči.

Tina: Za zaključek nam razkrijte še, kaj bo vaš naslednji projekt.

Michel: Trenutno že delam na projektu, s katerim želimo v naših elektronskih podatkovnih bazah v celoti posodobiti informacije in fotografije za našo korejsko zbirko. Kot je to danes v mnogih evropskih muzejih, je dostopnost tudi v naši organizaciji pomembna tema. Digitalno nam omogoča doseči občinstvo iz vsega sveta. Informacije pa bodo dostopne tudi v korejščini, tako da bodo lahko tudi raziskovalci v Koreji dostopali do njih.

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Ethnographic museums will be more conscious of the communities

An Interview with Curator Michel Lee

Tina Palaić

Photo Michel Lee 2

Michel Lee

Michel Lee is curator for China and Korea at the Swedish National Museums of World Culture. Before its last reorganization, he was the director of the Museum of Far Eastern Antiquities in Stockholm, which is one of the museums – in addition to the Ethnographic Museum and Museum of Mediterranean and Near Eastern Antiquities in Stockholm, and Museum of World Culture in Gothenburg – in the consortium of the National Museums of World Culture.

 

 

Michel Lee received his Bachelor of Arts in anthropology at the George Washington University in Washington, D.C. After his studies, he worked for the Smithsonian Institution’s Anthropology department at the National Museum of Natural History. Then he moved to London, where he earned his Master of Arts in the history of art and archeology at the School of Oriental and African Studies, University of London. Before moving to Sweden, he also worked as the director and curator of the Museum of East Asian Art in Bath, U.K.

Michel and I met in May 2016 in Marseille, France, within the SWICH project. On that occasion, I presented my collaboration with Roma women within the Accessibility project in the Slovene Ethnographic Museum. Since we share an interest in the Roma community, we had a lively conversation about our experiences and perspectives regarding collaboration with Roma within museums. Eventually, it brought up a lot of other common interests – identity politics, diaspora communities, and the role of museums in contemporary society. From then on, our discussions became more and more vibrant, so we decided to present some of the topics in the form of an interview. We spoke at the end of February 2017 in Stockholm. Of course, I started the conversation with a question about the SWICH project.


Tina: Let’s start with the SWICH project! It aims to rethink the role of ethnographic museums today, as well as develop innovative and more inclusive ethnographic museum practice. The National Museums of World Culture, where you work, is one of the SWICH partners. How do you see the role of Swedish partner in the project?

Michel: I think one of our main contributions to the SWICH project is sharing experiences from our Swedish perspective. The SWICH project is a great resource for European museums to keep each other up-to-date with current museum practice within Europe, especially ethnographic museums. Through different exchanges and different types of dialogue, it makes the museums stronger by allowing them to pick and choose what methods work for their specific countries, their specific contexts. Maybe not everything we hear from other participants works, for instance, within Sweden. However, it is good to hear what other museums are doing, what they see as best practice and how we can apply some of these very good practices to our museums. As a curator, it is a way for me to be exposed to different practices and different ways of working with collections and communities.

Tina: Within SWICH, both National Museums of World Culture and Slovene Ethnographic Museum work on two themes: creative dialogue and digital futures. Within the former theme, you also collaborated with an artist, and now you are working on experimental exhibition. What are your experiences?

Michel: To be honest, it was my colleague that worked on our artist-in-residence exhibition, so I’m not the best person to talk to about the process of working with that artist. But just as a general observation about some of the artist-in-residence projects I have seen in ethnographic museums, I think that most people who visit ethnographic museums do not necessarily go for the same reasons and digest information in the same ways as people who visit art museums. The messages from some artists-in-residence are often communicated in a more abstract way that art museum audiences expect, but not always for an ethnographic museum visitor. Visitors may not take the time to switch mind sets, and walk away from the display if the message is presented in too abstract a way.

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Image is from the public workshop ’You are here, because they were there’ led by SWICH Artist in residence Jacqueline Hoang Nguyen and held at Museum of Ethnography, 17 October 2015. Photographer: Tony Sandin.

With regard to the experimental exhibition, I am very much involved with that. In many ways, this project has been liberating in that there are few preconceived ideas of what the final product should be or how we get to the final product. We’re working with a school in what is perhaps Sweden’s most culturally diverse city. We will have workshops with the students to help prepare them to talk about their identities through objects.  They play a key role in creating the exhibition and the exhibition will stay in their school for a period of time. This is the first exhibition that I have worked on where I have only minimal control of the presentation of the objects. Yes, I will frame the exhibition with things like an introduction text, have the responsibility of editing, and we will make sure that the students have accurate information about the objects, so that their decisions to work with particular objects are based on knowledge and facts. But it will be the students that have the voice when it comes to their relationship to the objects or what they stand for. With this type of method, the process of working with the students, through our education officers, becomes just as important as the final product. We will also be working with the elderly in this project in a way that encourages intergenerational dialogue. I feel like this exhibition process has, so far, been a great experience for me working with objects in a different way.

Tina: Decolonization, globalization and migration – those are three crucial processes that are profoundly changing European society in the last few decades. How do you feel they have affected ethnographic museums as cultural institutions as well as ethnographic museum practices?

Michel: Ethnographic museums were originally showcases of other cultures but almost within a vacuum. It was easy to get the sense that these cultures existed within themselves, almost as if there could be pure cultures. Now, with more issues about migration and decolonization being brought to the forefront of the work of many museums, pushing museums to become more inclusive of minority and suppressed voices, this has helped museums to acknowledge that no culture, no groups of people have ever been that isolated. There has always been communication, influences, movements of people. Maybe it did not happen as fast or on as large a scale as today, but certainly there was movement, there was communication, there was sharing of information, technology and so forth. I think the current emphasis in some museums on themed exhibitions, rather than culturally or geographically-based exhibitions, may be a result of this acknowledgement. However, I feel that it is important to not completely abandon culturally-based and geographically-based exhibitions, because they still help us to understand where we came from and how we got to be the way we are today.  We just need to understand and acknowledge the complexities and historical contexts when we talk about cultures within specific geographic locations.

Tina: Museums respond to today’s demands with various practices: they digitize and make all the content available on-line, they invite artists to bring a different perspective into museum practice or make creative interpretation of the museum content, some try to develop collaboration with source communities and create exhibitions together with them. In your opinion, which museum practice will define the future of ethnographic museums?

Michel: I think ethnographic museums in the future will be much more conscious of the communities out there that have a stake in their collections. And it will not be only about the collections, it will also be about the communities, whether we’re talking about source or diaspora communities. I see a lot more of work with communities in terms of how to interpret objects and what should be represented for different peoples, different groups.

Tina: Dr. Vázquez, whom we listened to in Leiden in November 2016, made a distinction between ‘colonization’ and ‘coloniality’. Although colonization has technically ended for much of the world, coloniality is still present today. The term refers to residual effects of colonization such as racism, discrimination, and the dominance of the Western perspective. How can ethnographic museums, which are institutions embedded in colonial history, help to dismantle coloniality and include also non-Western perspectives into their presentations?

Michel: I think including voices, or points of views, from communities that are represented in the museum, but whose perspectives are not always represented, is a very good way to help dismantle coloniality. It is very important to acknowledge that there are different points of views and to bring them out, but I do not think one point of view should necessarily take over another. I feel it is important that the different points of views that are presented are based on fact or knowledge, or at least to contextualize them if they are not. I don’t think we can have a good understanding of a conflict or situation if we only know one point of view. To know the different points of views is to have a more holistic understanding of a certain situation. Disciplines, such as history, art history, anthropology, look at their histories – they come of the point of view of the dominant society.  But, does that mean that it is wrong, bad or shameful? I think not necessarily. Of course museums should not promote racism, discrimination, or domination, and museums need to be sensitive of these issues when creating exhibitions. But just because there is a dominant point of view does not necessarily mean it automatically falls into one of those categories. Again, I think opening up museum interpretation to more voices is a good thing. Recognizing and understanding that there are different points of views will give one a better understanding of a situation. Some points of views may contradict each other and show where conflicts arise, exposing the complexities of life! But different points of views can also be complementary and give a fuller, more nuanced understanding of a situation.

Tina: How can we achieve this within museums?

Michel: It is very common now to work with diaspora groups, with source communities. European museums have traditionally had a foundation within a Western, academic perspective. Perhaps we do not need to, as they say, throw the baby out with the bathwater. Maybe we can still acknowledge a museum point of view, perhaps some might call this the traditional academic voice. This voice may or may not contradict a community’s perspective. But by working openly and respectfully with source and diaspora communities, different voices will naturally come out. Museums should be very transparent about the process of working with communities. For instance: what is the voice of the curator, why do they have this perspective, what is the voice of the community and why do they have a certain perspective.

As Europe becomes a more diverse society with each generation, it is also natural that people working within many European museums reflect this trend. Museum workforces in Europe are probably more diverse than they have ever been. I sometimes feel that discussions about representation within museums have the point of view that the museum is one player and the “community” is another player. Sometimes, there are already voices from within the community working within the museum. We should not take for granted that change will automatically happen. People need to work towards change. But having a diverse workforce will help museums to be more inclusive of other voices and help with the process of dismantling coloniality.

Tina: Can you share your good practice of collaborating with communities?

Michel: I quite often work with communities in our Sculpture Hall. Within the Swedish context, there is often reluctance to talk about religion. But I feel that when working with objects which were created as religious objects, we must understand at least the basics of the religion in order to understand how to read and understand the objects – sculptures in this case – on a deeper level. We have invited Buddhist monks and nuns from different traditions to perform ceremonies with and around the sculptures in the Sculpture Hall. This way, the visitor will have a better understanding that these sculptures are not just objects. They have a ceremonial and social context. They are meant to be seen with offerings. Those that believe in the religion interact with the statues. These are things a visitor usually does not see within a museum setting. We have also had monks create butter sculptures as offerings to specific statues, or the deities that are represented by the statues. This was also a way to present a type of material culture that is not preserved within museum collections due to the ephemeral nature of the material. Of course, the conservator is also a very important part of these projects to help negotiate what can be done around the objects. We do our best to accommodate the needs of the devout, while still making sure that the objects are well cared for from a conservation point of view.

The consecration ceremony for butter sculptures made by the monks of Drikung Monastery, Ladakh, India. Museum of Far Eastern Antiquities, 2016

Whenever I work with communities, self-representation is very important. A good dialogue is important to have to make sure that both parties know what each other’s expectations are. From the museum side, the main requirement when accepting this type of cooperation is inclusivity. The ceremony or event must not exclude anyone. We make sure the communities we work with understand that the museum is a public place, and most people attending the event will probably not be of the religion and will be there mainly to observe. I have never had an experience with a group that does not accept this. And of course, there could be people attending who are of that faith, and they are welcome to experience the event as a religious event. Although religion can sometimes be a touchy subject in Sweden, these Buddhist events are some of our most well-attended events. I think the main reason for this is because Buddhism is seen in quite a positive light in Western popular imagination.

Tina: For the conclusion – what will be your next project?

Michel: I’m currently working on a project to completely update the information and photography for our Korea collection in our electronic database. As with so many museums in Europe now, accessibility is a big topic in our organization. Working with the digital allows us to reach audiences around the world. The information will also be available in Korean language, so researchers in Korea will also have access.