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.


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.


Art and Christianity in Central Africa

Tina Palaić

Christmas should be celebrated on 25 May instead of December. At least that is what members of the Kimbanguist Church believe – and also practice. Kimbanguism is a religious movement founded by Simon Kimbangu in the Belgian Congo in 1921. With several millions of believers, Kimbanguist Church is considered a branch of Christianity.

Simon Kimbangu interpreted the Bible and prophesied the end of the colonial order. Belgian colonialists accused him of encouraging racism, uncivil behavior and offending public order, as well as condemned him to death. However, he stayed in captivity until his death in 1951. Despite attempts to suppress the movement, Kimbanguism has survived. Kimbanguist Church fights against the polygamy, magic and witchcraft, as well as use of violence, alcohol and tobacco.

Kimbanguist Church is merely one of the consequences of the encounter of the Kongo peoples of the Central Africa with Christian religion. Small, but very exciting temporary exhibition at the Musee du Quai Branly in Paris, entitled ‘From the Jordan River to the Congo River: Art and Christianity in Central Africa’, tells us about the influences of 500 years of Christianization of the vast territory of today’s Gabon, Angola, Democratic Republic of Congo and Congo. We can see how Christian iconography was interpreted and used by Kongo rulers and artists – many of the objects connected Christian imagery with the power. For instance, cruciform objects were used to legitimize the power of leaders, in judicial decisions, rainmaking, and as talismans to assure successful activities – traveling, hunting, and conception. 


A copy of Santo Agostinho Padrão, stone pillar, erected by Portuguese Diogo Cão in 1482, when he reached the Kingdom of Congo.

Curator defines three evangelisation periods of Central Africa:

  • between the 15th and the 18th centuries: the Portuguese reached the Kingdom of Kongo in 1482 and remained the main European population (also the Dutch and the French occupied certain areas) in the area until the beginning of colonial era. The main reason for contacts was trading however, Portugal also supported different missionary orders to spread Christianity. The conversion of the Kingdom of Congo happened quickly – one of the reasons is that political leadership decided to embrace the new religion, as they saw it as a source of their greater political power. Conversion was mainly a ruling classes’ strategy to serve their political and religious ends, therefore it never eradicated local beliefs.

Nkangi kiditu, a crucifix of the Congo chief, with secondary figures with joined hands. Crucifixes legitimized the power of their owners. 17th century.


In the early years of the 18th century, a young Kongo princess named Kimpa Vita promoted a new form of Christianity. She began a religious and political movement, later called Antonianism. Sculptures like this one complement the role of Kimpa Vita in promoting the reunification and strengthening of the Kongo. 20th century.

  • colonial era: it reached its climax with the Berlin conference (1884-1885) when different Kongo groups became dependent on the Portuguese and French powers as well as on the Belgian crown. There are many objects on the exhibition showing Catholic-inspired art from this period. When the second period of evangelism began, of course in an alliance with the colonial order, there were more material, formal and linguistic than spiritual traces left after the initial wave of Christianity.

Female necklace with crucifix, first quarter of the 20th century.


Ntadi, funerary statue, with a cross around its neck and a hat with leopard claws, an attribute of a Chief. 20th century.


Santu cross, eastern Kongo, late 19th-early 20th century. These crosses were used primarily to assure successful hunts.

  • from 1960, 1970 onwards: proliferation of new, so-called ‘revival churches’, was encouraged by the acute economic and political crisis in what is now the Democratic Republic of Congo. These churches seek to break with the past and tradition. One of them is Kimbanguist Church, introduced at the beginning of this text. There is one room of the exhibition dedicated only to this period which shows also Pierre Bodo’s artistic interpretations.

Congolese painter Pierre Bodo (1953-2015), La Possession Demoniaque, 2000. Bodo served as a pastor of a Pentecostal church, which influenced his iconographic choices.

From my perspective, curator of the exhibition, Julien Volper, specialist curator for the Sub-Saharan Africa at the Royal Museum of Central Africa in Tervuren, very well emphasized the crucial point of the exhibition – the adaptation of Christianity to the particularities of local cultures.

Christian iconography and practices were not adapted unaltered. On the one hand, exhibited objects reflect the reinterpretation of Christian iconography by the local artists, and on the other, Catholic practices were transformed into a religious syncretism. As it is written on the museum’s website, we can understand Congolese cultural interpretation of  Catholicism as “one of the symbols of emancipation in the face of European domination”.

With revealing the aspects of agency of Kongo peoples when encountered with Christian religion, the curator enables us to question imperialist and racist elements of an evolutionary discourse, or of the so-called narrative of progress, which is still present nowadays. From my perspective, this exhibition succeeds in presenting how contacts between different religious as well as cultural concepts can result in something new, stimulate creativity and thus provide new perspectives on the world we live in. This is an extremely important message for today. Fortunately, for those of us, who do not understand French – only the main panels are translated in English – there is an exhibition catalogue available in both, French and English languages.


Obviously, the exhibition also inspired a visitor, who drew this wonderful picture in a guest book.

Strolling through the exhibition, I was reminded of the very special experience I had while traveling / volunteering in Ghana with a very good friend of mine. We accidentally came across Christian church in the city of Tamale, and were invited to join the Holy Mass. They welcomed us very kindly, and we were asked to introduce ourselves. Afterwards we were invited to actively participate at the Mass. Their Holy Book surprised me the most – I am familiar with biblical parables quite well, however this book was very different. Stories were categorized within several chapters, namely health, family, love, strength, temptation … depending on their message. I tried to read a chapter about temptation, but my neighbor never stopped to show me the right page we were reading at the moment …



Out to Sea?

Urška Purg

On the way from work, I stop by at the market. I crave some bananas and I need a few lemons. Before weighing them and getting a price, I neatly place them in those see-through plastic bags. Quickly, I also grab my favourite yogurt in a cup and a bottle of water, since I forgot to drink all day. The last thing I need is a piece of cheese, packed in a stretch foil. There, I’m done. Since I’m always in a hurry, I rush to the self-cashier’s and stuff my purchase in their handy plastic bags. Once I’m home, placing my yield on the spots, where it belongs, I realize, I made it home with three new plastic bags, plastic cup and a bottle, and a plastic foil. Ok, it’s not that bad. It gets worse though, when thinking this happens nearly every second day. And not only in my case. However, what has this to do with museums? More than we think.


A mass of plastic waste, which every 20 – 30 secunds ends up in the sea.

Out to Sea? Is an exhibition telling a story about a phenomenal material – plastic. Plastic is amazing, since it can have any characteristic we want. It is cheap, light… practically it is perfect. It even contributed to the development of the daily appliances. Plastic is so to say almighty. Moreover, it is very badly degradable. It proves its almightiness also in the sea, the final station where it ends up in large masses every 20 to 30 seconds.

To decompose, plastic needs UV rays.

Would you like to take a look of what size of a mass am I talking about? Take a walk through the travelling exhibition, currently hosted in The Museum of Architecture and Design (MAO). Already during the visit, your brain will start to ruminate on this. Exhibition from The Museum für Gestaltung Zürich, which travels around the world in environment-friendly way, is set to be easily understood and introduced to the children. The visitor is introduced to an afterlife of plastic, once it served its purpose for the humans. The exhibition plays with a thought, what archaeological diggings will our successors find. It offers an insight on how much plastic waste we produce; it illustrates the different ways of recycling. It enables us to discover on our own, how much and how small plastic bits are hiding in the sea sand. It serves us with facts about the plastic and visual enrichments, among which also a mockumentary – depicting a plastic bag’s struggle to reach the bags’ afterlife paradise – gets its place.

Poisons, hiding in the plastic bits, are accumulated in the organism’s fat tissue, rounding the food chain with us: the fish eats the bits, and we eat the fish. And the poisons along with the fish.

Despite seeing this exhibition already in Graz in 2015, which stunned me already then, it took MAO’s localized Slovene plastic waste input to really strike me. Besides, being greeted by a monthly catch of domestic plastic waste, collected by the museum staff, when entering the exhibition also did its part on my emotional involvement. Most visible and unique host’s input on the travelling exhibition is an analysis of the materials of the plastic national heritage, kept in MAO’s collections. Through that, they expose the overlooked fact; there is more than just one type of plastic, as it is often perceived. Moreover, the restorers being unable to define the types with their bare eyes, this everyday material becomes unfamiliar, diverse and puzzling. What type of plastic we have is important not only for its decomposition – since not all types last the same amount of time – but also for its storage. The last is clearly stressed in MAO’s input at the exhibition with an analyse of selected design objects, opening an often overlooked chapter of object-keeping in museums, while warning about the issue; possibly causing a few grey hair to restorers and keepers of museum collections.

An exhibition that gives you chills and convinces you to make a fresh new year’s resolution.

The exhibition does not pretend to offer any aesthetic pleasures to the visitors. It plays a role of something greater. It reminds us of what we do on regular basis, and how effective we do it. If museums are supposed to take on a more active role in the society, influencing and co-shaping the society, this exhibition is a way, how this can be done. This is an exhibition not only all the children and schools need to see, but also we – adults should not miss out on it.

MAK Vienna

Urška Purg

Oh, Vienna and museums – it’s always a pleasure! Actually, I like my Vienna with sequences of museum and coffee stops. In addition, eventually a lunch and dinner, of course. However, really – squeezing two to three museums and two coffee stops in a day in Vienna is a perfect combination, which makes sure that I don’t gorge myself with culture (or coffee).

This time around, when the streets were reflecting month away holiday spirit, I decided to fully ignore the too early Christmassy atmosphere and stroll around the museums I’ve placed on my list To visit. I must say, I was really impressed by The Museum of Applied Arts – MAK. It is easy to reach, and it has that welcoming atmosphere, even though the staff you meet is in general at the reception desk and later on the guardians of the artefacts. However, the additional – let’s say – contemporary participatory and educational visitor inputs on the exhibitions with many various sofas in the ground floor and tables, where some visitors calmly had their snack/talk brakes made sure I felt fully relaxed and nice. Despite having a collection of Vienna’s pedigree furniture and on first glimpse boring artefacts in the ground floor, they’ve managed to cut the haughty spirit of the exhibits through adding the elements of surprise. When you already expect you will find a row of important chairs from their furniture collection in the next room, they pleasantly surprise you with an installation of those important chairs presented through their shadows – instantly creating a new experience, freed from the possible superiority. In addition, the art nuoveau Wien 1900 in the first floor is remarkable, a bit old-fashioned, but you know – there is something about that period, and they have Klimt’s artworks as well. And who doesn’t like Klimt?


Vienna 1900 with more contemporary artistic addition on the top.

My favourite though, was the MAK Design Labor, where I zigzagged around, feasting my eyes on incredible contemporary kitchen ideas (next to the Mother of the Fitted Kitchen from 1926), incredible chair collection, a room of patterns, which are also digitalized and ready for you to use, Helmut Lang room and a room, where the question of sustainability is in the forefront. I really appreciated, how they intertwined the old and the new, enabling the self-explanatory environment without the unnecessary elaborations, and very subtle artistic inputs on the topics, such as the kitchen, the table setting and eating… Foremost, I liked the solution on reducing the text on the exhibitions, yet enabling the curious ones to learn more. They took the simple and effective way, by inserting the ‘text guides corners’ just before every exhibition topic began, and by exposing the most important points or questions for the visitors to chew on, placed on the walls in German and English.

Their decision on the temporary exhibitions was also an interesting one, displaying the Shunga, erotic art from Japan and 100 BEST POSTERS 15. Germany Austria Switzerland. Both were great for creating a cut between the floors and various topics. There is many more on display, always playing with the past and the present, or creating a special environment and exhibition space, as they did in the exhibition on china, placing it in the enormous wooden-glass see-through crates with handwritten object presentations. As I said, they know how to refresh and spice things up and they have a lovely museum shop with a café just next to the reception.

All in all, it’s a place worth visiting, especially on Tuesdays, when they are open till 10 p.m. with free entry.

tim – Textile and Industry Museum Augsburg

Urška Purg

European cities are facing the downfall of industry for a while now. Causing the changes in society and people’s lives, it is becoming more and more important topic also for the museums. Museums try to save and preserve some remains of the fallen or transferred industry. Although, preservation and assuring the referential point in constantly changing times is an important role for museums, who wish to compensate the loss of industry and modernisation (Marquard 2001 in Zübe 1989 po Kaiser idr. 2014, 6), that is no longer enough for them. Museums are becoming the carriers of the changes as well, as Kaiser, Krankenhagen and Poehls place museums (2014, 6). This means, museums need to face their actions also in the present society and its needs, as well as in the future. There are more and more museums, who are doing their best to leave their footprints in this process. TIM is just one example, how once leading textile industry in Augsburg has managed to cope with their vanished era.

Placed in an old complex of former textile factory, State Textile and Industry Museum Augsburg tells a story of industrial importance of Augsburg in the textile field in the history. It is a specialized history museum, which pays a tribute to the once important and todays ruined bit of local textile industry.

I had an opportunity to visit the museum already three years ago, and with a help of a really good guided tour, it charmed me completely. It was nice to come back again after three years to see, how they are proceeding. Museum is placed in an old building with a subtle and clear museum design. The concept of the museum follows the chronological order, with an introduction of the textile production from the very beginning through raw materials with silkworms and origins, and so on, followed by the machine production, textile patterns and final products through time. The main story is accompanied by the parallel story in the separate thematic cubes, introducing the development of the textile industry in Augsburg. Both stories are very intuitively and neatly arranged. Through being a very structured museum, it is very clear for the visitors to follow the proposed storylines, with interesting blue interactive DIY islands with children’s tasks and games. Although, I appreciate there is not too much text, more text in English wouldn’t hurt. They offer guided tours in five languages though. However, for individual non-German speaking visitors, who wish merely to stroll around and discover the exhibition on their own, there is a gap. In addition, the staff addressing you in German no matter your questions are in English also doesn’t help much. There is demonstration of the machines by the former factory workers, which is impressive, it adds value to the whole concept and helps clarifying the picture, however it is available three times a day – if you are not aware of this, you can easily miss it.


tim’s main entrance.

Nevertheless, to continue with the space itself – it breathes and it is not overcrowded with objects. They have managed to keep the feeling of the former factory and transform it in to a museum at the same time. There are also a lot of remarkable design ideas, which enable the display of the more sensitive objects, placed into drawers, with sensor lighting, that turns on, when the visitor approaches the showcase. Unfortunately, all the sensors did not work anymore.

During my first visit, I admired the most the idea of making the special Augsburg textile patterns available for the public with a help of technology. Tim keeps around 550 pattern books, which span the period of 1793 to 1993, and include approximately 1.3 million textile patterns. Since the books are old and sensitive museum objects, they need to be exhibited under extremely strict conditions, which are not very friendly to the visitors. At the same time, it is impossible to enable the overview of all of the patterns through opening the books on a random page, without the possibility to browse through the books (reasonably not allowed). Therefore, they came up with an idea of a museum catwalk with three giant central female dresses, equipped with computer connection to the scanned patterns from the books and the possibility of projection of the selected patterns to one of the two completely white dresses. Genius! It offered us children to play, and more serious design students to try out their combinations and ideas. However, at my second visit this no longer existed. The first giant dress remained as it was, made out of various patches of cloth, whereas the white two are now so to say – useless. One was just there, and the other had a too bright projection of a very short video clip about something. It was excessively bright and therefore, impossible to decipher the meaning of it. Without the computer stations with patterns, these three giants lose their meaning and work only as a middle filling of the room with books of patterns on the sides, which are excessively illuminated from the bottom up, making it impossible to watch the patterns in the dark showcases anyway.

The presented textile story is very well incorporated into the important historical events, with emphasis on their influences on the industry. It rounds the dramatic rise and fall of the textile industry during the 20th century, including the First and the Second World War. For this purpose, the complementary video content is carefully incorporated in a very subtle way, blending in with the grey info islands and showcases, enriching the story flow and adding the information value.

For those of us, who do not like to read too much anyway, the final exhibition segment was the most interesting one, presenting the selected pieces of fashion clothes, including the remarkable black wedding dress from 1909. The majority of presented dresses and swimsuits is ladies-wear, although some uniforms and gentlemen’s suits were not missing. Moreover, I must say, I wouldn’t mind to have a dress or two from the exhibition in my home closet. Whether I would manage to fit in, is another question; however, some pieces are really beautiful and timeless.


A part of the permanent exhibition I really liked – presentation of fashin pieces, including the swimwear collection.

Permanent exhibition is concluded with a quick jump into present times with probably most popular room among the children, I imagine. A special grey cube includes space-like suite for steel workers, firefighters’ protective wear, wind-stopper test, carbon fibre products and other – to me – less appealing things with interactive elements.

Overall, museum offers a rounded story and illuminates an important piece of industrial history. Some relevant contemporary issues regarding this industry remain unspoken and can still be used in the temporary exhibitions, where the wonder and usefulness of the carbon fibre was presented at my visit. The museum is fresh and made with a thought on the ones, who like to discover things. However, what truly disappointed me is the prohibition of taking photos in today’s era?! I would fully understand the limitation of photographing with prohibition of flash usage, but the full stop? Their webpage says, it’s because of protecting the copyright – what copyrights? Or better, whose? It is a state museum, devoted to the people. And anyway, prohibiting the visitors from taking any photos in nowadays times is just a manifestation of not understanding, how the social web world is turning. Because of this demand, I am using the photos from three years ago, when no one prohibited me from taking any photos.

There has been a slick article exactly on this topic: Why is taking photos banned in museums.

To wrap it up, the museum is very contemporary in its storytelling, compared to other museums Augsburg has to offer, and it is worthwhile visiting. They even have a lovely museum shop at the entrance/ exit; with live on the spot sewing corner, many tim’s products and fair supply of thematic books for adults and children. In addition, their chic café/ restaurant fits perfectly to the ambient and rounds the museum experience with a tasty refreshment. Not to forget, how great the fact is, they have managed to name the tram station after the museum and a bus line as well. However, it still holds a broad space for improvements to develop into more tourist friendly destination. Especially, loosing that leftover of hierarchical demand of visitor’s gratefulness for being able to visit the museum, which completely mismatches their friendly webpage.

Finally yet importantly, I would like to take a quick look in Slovene museums and the industry topic. In Slovenia, there have been a few examples of facing the decomposing elements of the deindustrialization; only a few will be mentioned here, since this calls for a special post on its own. Years ago, Museum of Recent History Celje prepared a participatory project “Ne meč’te piskrov stran” referring to the public call to collect the Western-Emo enamel pots and use them in art interpretations, while enriching the museum collection with these missing elements. In Bela Krajina Museum, a temporary exhibition to celebrate the 60th anniversary of Beti Textile Company – the economic miracle of Yugoslavia (Brancelj Bednaršek 2016) is on a display this year. In Maribor, The Museum of National Liberation of Maribor is actively collecting the remains of the vanishing industries, preserving their spirit and (hi)stories, recently with emphasis on the Maribor’s textile industry, known as the Yugoslav Manchester.

Kaiser, Wolfram, Krankenhagen, Stefan in Poehls, Kerstin: Exhibiting Europe in Museums. Transnational Networks, Collections, Narratives, and Representations. New York in Oxford: Berghahn, 2014. (Volume 6, Museums and Collections).

Brancelj Bednaršek, Andreja: Predgovor/ Foreword. Beti: 60 let spominov. Beti (Metlika). Metlika: Belokranjski muzej, 2016. 10-13.

Sheikh Faisal Museum: world-class personal collection

Tina Palaić

Sheikh Faisal Museum is definitely a must-see place in Doha. This eclectic private collection contains at least one thing to fascinate any visitor. Huge halls with additional separate rooms, where you can sneak into and have a whole new world to discover offer endless sources for your imagination. Unfortunately, we did not have the opportunity to see all the rooms – some were locked at the time of our visit. After almost two hours, when the three of us left the place, I was not sure how I was going to articulate my experience. I needed some time to put all the pieces together – and eventually I decided not to worry too much if the text is more eclectic as usual. 🙂


Great building of the Sheikh Faisal Museum.


In front of the museum, there is a small lagoon with a traditional dhow on it.

Sheikh Faisal Museum displays the private collection of Sheikh Faisal bin Qassim Al Thani, a close relative of the Father Emir. Being surrounded by more than 15.000 objects, including vintage cars, boats, archaeological material, costumes, weapons, fine and decorative art, I started to wonder about the collector, his interests and motives. In order to understand the collection, particularly private one, you definitely need to know and understand the person behind it. Sheikh Faisal Museum does not only display the Islamic heritage, but also reflects the life of Sheikh Faisal himself. Furthermore, for some objects, perhaps he is the only person who knows their meaning and value.


Sheikh Faisal was born in Doha in 1948, and is one of the most prominent business leaders in the Middle East (Al-Faisal Holding). His collection has developed since 1960’s, the period of Qatar’s social and economic transition, and includes his personal belongings, as well as objects collected on his travels from different places in different times. A museum building was built on his farm, located 22 km from Doha, and opened to the public in 1998. The collection is private, therefore the Museum does not come under the authority of Qatar Museums Authority, the main museum organization in the country (entrance for the Museum is 15 QR, which is almost 4 €).


A full-scale vessel, applied in transport, for fishing or in pearl diving. (Before oil, Qataris depended on fishing and diving for natural pearls.) Beside the captain, second in command, steering man, the divers, and their pull-men, the professional musicians were an important part of the crew as well.


At the front, you can see a model of a desert camp, at the back, there is part of Sheikh Faisal’s collection of vintage cars.


According to museum’s website the collection is organized into four themes: Islamic Art, Qatar Heritage, Vehicles, and Coins and Currency. However, many objects are not ordered within such categories. From my perspective, these are just broad categories, under which a visitor can actually find all sorts of objects. Almost all of them are without labels and there are no texts provided (except for 2 panels with the text about the boats). For that reason, when wandering around the place, I had strong feeling that I am digging into somebody’s personal life. Numerous family photographs displayed on the walls throughout the museum, made this feeling even stronger.


Without Sheikh Faisal’s story, it is impossible to know why he put together a collection of Islamic prayer beads and the old television with a phone on the top of it.


Miniature classroom model.

The museum shows us Sheikh Faisal’s personal collection, which can be understood also as his commentary on a rapid development and social change his country has been facing in last few decades. Certainly, the collection presents his viewpoint (and to certain level of his relatives), which reflects in particular his enormous wealth, as well as his life opportunities, experience, values and tastes. At first, due to the chaotic and coincidental display of Sheikh Faisal’s objects I was thinking about different blog title – Sheikh Faisal’s Personal Cabinet of Wonders. Then I realized that this notion derives from my understanding of heritage and museum institution, which is based on the Western notions, and that in this case I would probably be wrong. Instead, I consider these collecting and exhibiting practices as deriving from the local cultural and historical context, and which are defined in particular by the specific position of his family.


There is a huge hall, exhibiting a fascinating collection of carpets.


Astonishing furniture.

To conclude, the collection certainly is a source of knowledge! Visitors, students, researchers – all can spend hours investigating one particular theme after another. However, to grasp it fully, I recomend you to find a guide to take you around.

Museum of Islamic Art, Doha

Tina Palaić

It is truly an exceptional opportunity for me to experience Doha, the capital city of Qatar, in the time of the rapid development of all Gulf area. Constant progress includes also impressive cultural offer. Museums, which are one of the sites of ongoing process of Qatari national identity construction, are not an exception. In this blog post, I would like to write about Museum of Islamic Art, an exceptional museum in many ways. Before doing so, I will provide brief introduction to better understand the Qatari cultural sphere.

Qatar is a tiny Gulf state, which gained independence from British protection in 1971. The country is in the process of rapid growth, and changes are monthly seen in every corner of Doha. On the one hand, there are many luxury hotels, spas, world class restaurants, malls and architecturally interesting and quite unusual buildings, and on the other, there are variety of options to shop in lively souqs and markets as well as explore several excellent museums and other vibrant cultural places. Qatar is still reliant on oil wealth however, the state wants to decrease its dependence on oil exports and establish a country as a major regional and international cultural and educational center.


West Bay, one of the most prominent districts of Doha, with its modern and unusual buildings.

In her article, UCL Qatar lecturer Karen Exell suggests that collecting and displaying (I would say in the western style) are something new in Qatar – these practices have been in operation since the middle of the 20th century. They have been defined by very particular socio-cultural context. Firstly, Qatari nationals are a minority in their own country (they represent around 12 per cent of the population; total population estimated in 2016: 2,383,705 people). The majority of the population consists of skilled and unskilled expatriate workers with residence status only. Secondly, unprecedented rapid development as well as increase in personal wealth connected with oil exploitation, change their ways of life in just a few decades. Consequently, there are many private collections which serve as a point to negotiate collectors’ own relationships with modernity. They show mostly traditional ways of life and express nostalgia about lost times as well as fear to lose traditional values. One of the extraordinary private collections can be seen in the Sheikh Faisal Museum (opened in 1998).

First museum in the western model, Qatar National Museum, was established in 1975, shortly after Qatar gained independence. This museum is now closed due to reconstruction and will reopen in 2018 (check out its outstanding architecture by French architect Jean Nouvel). Many museums and galleries were opened in the last two decades, for instance Museum of Islamic Art (2008), Mathaf: Arab Museum of Contemporary Art (2010), Msheireb Museums (2015); Al Riwaq Art Space (1998), Al Markhiya Gallery (2008). All museums and galleries offer free entry. The lead organization for museums in Qatar is Qatar Museums (2005) which is responsible for development of museums and art galleries as well as restoration of archeological sites. It also organizes and sponsors various cultural events.


Museum of Islamic Art attracts lots of people especially during the weekends – on Fridays and Saturdays.


Museum of Islamic Art (MIA).

The Museum of Islamic Art is located on the Corniche, very beautiful waterfront promenade, on the man-made island sixty metres from the shore. It was designed by the prominent Chinese-American architect I. M. Pei, and that cooperation immediately attracted a lot of attention and media coverage in the West. The building truly is spectacular. It is a clear example of engaging with modernity, however strong connections with the past were required. In the museum’s catalogue I have read about architect’s quest for the “essence” of Islamic architecture – he defines it through the play of light and shadows, “where sunlight brings to life powerful volumes and geometry plays a central role” (p. 26).


Spacious atrium with big chandelier and the decorative patterns on the floor, inspired by geometric Islamic designs.

The extraordinary collections of the MIA are not large in number – or at least curators did not put the majority of the objects on the display. Exhibition rooms are spacious and comfortable, with many chairs around to take a rest if necessary. In order to make every object seen and appreciated, they used the lightning to create the atmosphere of uniqueness of each of them in the otherwise dark rooms without natural lights. Exhibition includes metalwork, ceramics, jewellery, woodwork, textiles, coins and glass. It is clear that the display was created in the manner of orthodox Western exhibition design – on the basis of consideration, that the object tells its story by itself.


Hunting horn from Italy, probably Sicily, from 11th-12th century. On the exhibition, there are very tiny information available about the object.

Museum collection is very diverse. Objects geographically range from Spain to Central Asia and India, and in time from the 7th to the 19th century. They come from both secular and religious aspects of diverse worlds. As it is written on the exhibition, their collection “reflects the diversity of many cultures and ideas within one civilization”. This is a great perspective for me, however what I really missed, was the context, which would explain the historical and geographical backgrounds of the items. In addition I also craved for more information about the importance of exhibited objects as well as background of objects’ selection.


Here you can see a collection of astrolabes, scientific instruments, used throughout the Islamic world mainly to determine prayer time and direction of prayer towards Mecca.


Here are two beautiful lamps, a great example of Islamic art on glass.

This experience leads me to the question: who is the museum’s target audience? What is the connection with the local population – especially because MIA is very western styled museum? Of course MIA expresses its openness to people of all ages and ethnic backgrounds – by the way, check their online tours – but it seems for me that the main aim of the museum is not to include and communicate to local audience. In my opinion, they want to impress the West with both the amazing architecture and acceptable version of the Islamic world. Namely, without providing any context, museum exhibition excludes any connections to politics. With doing so, the museum demonstrates that “Islam has continually been a tolerant and progressive force, adopting, adapting and passing on ideas within and across its borders” (catalogue about MIA, p. 9). This quote clearly shows, that a heritage is – like always, but here perhaps more evidently – a political tool to emphasize selected interpretation.


Next to MIA is MIA Park, where you can stay for the whole day to enjoy the greenness, and catch the pleasant cool breeze from the sea. On this photo you can see MIA Park Bazaar, the modern version of the old souq tradition (held weekly every Saturday).


This large sculpture, designed by American artist Richard Serra, stands at the end of the MIA Park pier. Known as the ‘7’ sculpture, it celebrates the spiritual and scientific significance of the number 7 in Islamic culture. Unveiled in 2011.


MIA at the sunset.

#I have entered: turning points and passages of the youth

A review of an exhibition created by students of ethnology and cultural anthropology in cooperation with Slovene Ethnographic Museum

*the title of the exhibition is a pun: SEM = Slovene Ethnographic Museum AND I have

Tina Palaić

A few weeks ago I attended Družabnice, an event, organized as the accompanying programme of the personal exhibition entitled #I have entered: turning points and passages of the youth (#vstopilSEM: mejniki in prehodi mladih). It was prepared in the Slovene Ethnographic Museum by the young authors of the exhibition. Participants talked about different experiences we had during the passage from our youth to adulthood. I was so inspired by the event that after one week I participated in another one – with different guests and on different topic. The idea of Družabnice, which establishes museum as a safe and confidential space for exchange of participants’ personal experiences as well as conversation about their dilemmas, decisions and reflections, encouraged me to do the research about the background of exhibition making. This is particularly interesting, because exhibition #I have entered is made by the young, who do not get such an opportunity in museums on a regular basis.


Družabnice, accompanying programme of the exhibition #I have entered. At the beginning we were strolling through the exhibition and authors shared selected stories with us. Image: Pija Japelj


Družabnice establishes a museum as safe and confidential space for conversations about different themes. Image: Pija Japelj

An exhibition about their turning points and passages was created by students in the Department of Ethnology and Cultural Anthropology, Faculty of Arts, University of Ljubljana; faculty department proposed the cooperation to the Slovene Ethnographic Museum. Within the second permanent exhibition, entitled I, We and Others: Images of My World, the Museum enables individuals or groups to introduce their personal heritage through the creation of their own exhibitions. Such cooperation with visitors allows the museum institution to present different perspectives as well as include unrecognized heritage stories. However it is always different and demands exhaustive professional considerations. It was the same in collaboration with students of the 2nd grade of the first cycle degree, who attended the practical class Ethnology of Slovenes under the supervision of professor Miha Kozorog, PhD, and museum curator Polona Sketelj, MSc. Professor Miha Kozorog introduced the concept of rites of passage and students made connections with their passages from youth to adulthood. Museum curator Polona Sketelj presented them the exhibition Doors. Spatial and Symbolic Passageways of life, which is the basis for students’ exhibition in terms of content and design. Furthermore she explained processes of musealization and guided them through the exhibition making. Eventually the exhibition was created by a group of 12 students, who thus also did their obligatory student practice.


An exhibition opening. Image: Luka Rener

Museums can include individuals or groups as merely consultants, as interlocutors in museum research, or they invite them to participate in all phases of museum work. I spoke with great interest with museum curator Polona Sketelj and some authors of the exhibition about their cooperation and the level of students’ inclusion in the museum work. Polona Sketelj emphasized the double role of the students in that case – as ethnologists they practiced self-observation and self-reflection. Therefore, they collected their personal adolescent experiences and in the process of musealization transformed them into exhibition narrative. It was of extreme importance, said Polona Sketelj, that students were respectful and gained understanding, that there are no right or wrong passages, but only different stories, only nuances of the same passages. Since the young investigated their own experiences, the display does not allow generalizations about young people. For this reason she directed students to reflect and exhibit their own personal development. However, she did not want to interfere in the concept of the exhibition too much; it was of great importance for her that students made it by themselves. She directed them to in-depth consideration about the exhibition content with several questions: what is the purpose of the exhibition, what message do they want to communicate to the audience, and how will they do it. She emphasized their responsibility – as exhibition authors students are responsible for the correct use of anthropological theory, adequate language, sensible visual elements. Some exhibition content demanded more ethical consideration. In these cases, museum curator guided students with directional conversation as well.

One of their dilemmas was the level of authors’ personal data protection. Students exhibited some of the documents, where such information are clearly visible. Each author decided to display them on the basis of her/his own consideration. According to Polona Sketelj, an argument for doing so is also the nature of such personal exhibitions, which display personal stories.


This certificate proves that its owner has passed the hunting exam. It was very important passage for him, which has brought the feeling of belonging to one of the hunting associations in Slovenia. Image: Luka Rener

The intimacy of authors’ stories is indicated also in the display of several poems depicting emotional distress and searching for the meaning of life, written by one of the students. Some of them also described different ways young people use to get out of everyday or occasional anxieties. One of them is committing suicide, which they wanted to present with a puppet, hanging in the museum lobby. However at the end they did not decide for the puppet, because no one has had that kind of experience by themselves. They followed the principle to show only the content connected personally with them.


Poems depict one of the student’s search for the meaning of life. Image: Luka Rener

Authors included one student’s personal drug collection as well, to show experimenting with drugs as one of the important passages from the youth to adulthood. This is another level of intimacy visitors might experience strolling through the exhibition. Students asked themselves how to display drugs and what effect may this small collection have on the audience. They decided to represent drugs as one of the challenges they are confronted with, and they included also authorial images to show the consequences of taking drugs.

Exhibition #I have entered is based on students’ personal stories. They present their turning points and passages within two chapters, which show us their attitude towards adulthood. The chapter #with you (#z vami) includes official passages, which are often proven by the government and clearly seen in the society, for instance: adulthood, driving licence, matura examination, enrollment in faculty, first job. The chapter #alone (#sami) includes those passages, that are hidden and often on the edge, and young people can get punished for their activity – however they are essential for them in the process of becoming adults. Within this chapter authors speak about the perceptions and changing of their bodies, first sexual experience, drug experimentation, entertainment, adrenaline sports, and – interestingly – they included the passage into motherhood in this chapter as well. In addition, there is a small part of the exhibition between these two, which shows us the processes of the exhibition making through the selected images. From my perspective this part of the display is very important, since the authors had to reflect the process of exhibition making in order to present it, as well as the audience can get information about it and thus might develop more complex understanding of the exhibition.


A poem, which reflects the job of a museum curator, was written by one of the exhibition authors on the basis of his own experience in the museum. Image: Pija Japelj


Demonstration of the exhibition making – an opportunity to reflect the process. Image: Luka Rener

Through an exhibition design, which is quite expressive, authors emphasized very important dimension of their everyday life: social networks. They communicate most of the news through Facebook, Instagram, Twitter. That was the basis for the use of #hashtag sign (for instance with the title of an exhibition as well as titles of both exhibition chapters), and for narration of their personal stories in the form of Facebook posts. However, more intimate and personal texts written by the hand are still important for them therefore, they included texts on the walls, poems, and several drawings with different motifs as the second level of information.

A visitor is confronted with a series of passages, and this is why the exhibition can appear as chaotic as well as superficial. However this atmosphere created by – perhaps at first sight accidental – embedment of objects and stories in the space, shows us another feature of authors’ world. It depicts the seeking of their own, individual pathways in the series of passages into adulthood, some of which are obligatory and other they simply wished to pass, in the often very complex reality. On one hand, this reality is not easy to understand, and on the other, it is even less easy to live it to the full.


The youth reflect on their bodies a lot – how they change and mature. Their experiences and thoughts are presented in the form of Facebook posts. Image: Luka Rener

Through the exhibition the youth speak very openly about themselves. They perceive museum as their own space, as confidential environment, where they can safely share their personal stories. This feeling was even more present on Družabnice, an event, proposed and organized by them. One of the students shared her opinion about cooperation with the museum:

»Cooperation with the museum has special value, because it allows students to get to know the museum work in practice. Personally it means a lot to me, since through the work here I have realized, what I am interested in in my life and in which direction I want to build my career. I am also very lucky, that this kind of work is connected to my leisure time as well, because I have been encountering with the cultural heritage all the time.

After the opening of the exhibition #I have entered there were a lot of questions. What to do with the exhibition? Will people come to the museum to see it? Will our message reach them? At the end we have found a great solution – Družabnice. We combined guided tour through the exhibition and conversation with invited guests. Visitors’ response was absolutely positive and I hope, that we will continue with Družabnice in the museum, because we all need a safe place to share our moments, thoughts, and stories.«

Pija Japelj

You can see the exhibition #I have entered in the Slovene Ethnographic Museum until November 2016. Due to the outstanding feedback young authors want to develop Družabnice also in connection with other exhibitions. You just need to check all the inspiring events they have prepared for us!


Adulthood is one of the official passages. The text on the wall says: “Finally 18, I am finally an adult and free! What a lie!” Image: Luka Rener


One of the important official passages is also graduation dance. There is an interesting story behind this dress. You can read it on the exhibition. 🙂 Image: Luka Rener


Authors of the exhibition included a depiction of their the most personal space – their room. Image: Luka Rener

New trends in museology II.

A book review

Tina Palaić

As a young museologist, I try to educate myself constantly in the field of museums – both practically and theoretically. Recently I have read a very useful book, which aims to bridge the gap between theory and practice. It is a book written by renowned museologists and practitioners Peter van Mensch and Léontine Meijer-van Mensch, who call for development of new, up-to-date museum practices to establish and maintain museums as essential institutions in our society. New Trends in Museology II (2015) is the second edition of their book New Trends in Museology (2011), but very much upgraded. They presented it on the international workshop with the same title in April 2016 in the Slovene Ethnographic Museum in Ljubljana, where I first met them in person and was fascinated by their broad knowledge, as well as deep understanding of contemporary ideas about museology. From their perspective, museum professionalism rests on three pillars: theory, practice, and ethics. These three pillars are the underlying theme of the book whether they speak about museum collections, educational design and programmes, importance of inclusion and participation, integrated heritage perspectives, as well as evaluation and ethics.

Authors start their book with a core of the museum’s identity – a collection. They consider it not as an end but as a means to achieve museum’s social role. They write:

“A collection creates an idea of the past (and the present) in order to make it a possible entity for discussion in the present. It is also a gift to the generations to come, and in this respect we may speak of transfer of culture to contemporary publics as well as to future societies.” (p. 17)

They emphasize two things: first, the heritage is about transfer of culture (for instance between generations), and second, the relationship with the heritage is always active – there are selected elements, which support the accepted idea of the past, which are considered as a heritage. We can understand heritage as a contemporary cultural product, which refers to the past. With this in mind, museum experts should consider the dynamic nature of collections whose values change with the changes in society, and in addition to documentation, registration, conservation and restoration understand both collecting and deaccessioning as two strategies for collection development. Authors define deaccessioning as an instrument of a dynamic collecting policy; for instance, parts of the collection can be exchanged for objects of a higher value. For doing so authors suggest stronger cooperation between museums in order to achieve museums’ more distinctive profiles.

Furthermore they introduce two very important concepts: guardianship and shared responsibility. They define guardianship as shared ownership:

“Guardianship would [than] prioritize forms of shared ownership where museums and creator/user communities share responsibility for the preservation of objects as living heritage i.e. a form of the preservation where heritage value does not exclude use outside of the museum context.” (p. 20)

Who is in the position to decide what is heritage and what should be preserved? Whose stories are heard and whose voices subordinated? In addition to guardianship, the idea of shared responsibility also aims to cross the gap between authorized and subordinated heritage discourses, as well as liberate the process of signification and selection of heritage from the authoritative heritage discourse.

Another inspiring concept is heritage community, which was introduced by the Council of Europe in its Framework Convention on the Value of Cultural Heritage for Society in 2005. A heritage community is defined as a group of people who value specific aspects of cultural heritage which they wish, within the framework of public action, to sustain and transmit to future generations. Authors wrote:

“Interestingly, no reference is made to space and territory and there is no reference to local, regional or global importance. Also noteworthy is the absence of predefined societal parameters, national, ethnic, religious, professional or based on class. A heritage community can thus be built up across territories and social groups.” (p. 55)

There is a clear relation between the concept of heritage community and the concept of Heritage 3.0/Museum 3.0, which is also described in the book. The idea of Heritage 3.0 is based on the term Web 3.0 (third generation of Internet-based services) and means that databases of heritage institutions are connected. It also refers to the collaboration in general, which can be thematic or place-related – I immediately connected the Heritage 3.0 with the process of deaccessioning. Furthermore, the idea of Heritage 3.0 is important because the traces of history and the stories are recorded by many different heritage institutions: museums, archives, libraries, and organizations of built heritage and nature and landscape protection, but also organizations concerned with intangible heritage. Together these institutions constitute the memory of »the place«. If connected through the idea of Heritage 3.0 visitors have an opportunity to understand heritage in all its complexity better.

Another enrichment, which is the result of interdisciplinarity, is evident in authors’ discussion about learning and experience design. When talking about educational turn in museums they cite several authors who use theories from education studies. Howard Gardner’s theory of multiple intelligences and David Kolb’s theory of experiental learning are both very useful for the development of museum education. What is really valuable is the understanding that visitors make their own meanings and construct their narratives based on their previous knowledge, experience, interests, expectation, intention, and not least their physical and mental condition. Authors introduce the experience as one of the most influential concepts in developing museum practice today and encourage curators to personalize experience.

“… visitor wants a meaningful personal experience. Customized experience design is not enough. Customers want to be in control of their own experiences in a way that the experience is relevant.” (p. 45)

Museums should be socially responsible by facilitating civic engagement, acting as an agent of social change or moderating sensitive social issues – which museum-specific products will make this possible? Moreover, how can we measure product’s quality and value? A whole chapter is dedicated to this question where authors offer several approaches and methods for evaluating different elements of museum work. They also describe their own model: a systems approach to the museum phenomenon. They see the museum as a system of connected subsystems: preservation, research, and communication, which can be divided into smaller subsystems. The aim of the model is to identify what is needed in processes and how that relates to the needs of society. Evaluation of museum work and its products is a necessary step following the implementation of ethical principles in museum work. Authors elaborate professional ethics of museum workers and introduce several important concepts: transparencysocial responsibility, and moral agency.

The book provides an exhausting introduction into variety of contemporary ideas about museums’ role in today’s society.  As they write themselves:

“In Internet terms, our book might be considered as a portal. It was our intention to point at practices and ideas that are relevant to contemporary developments, and to make connections between tendencies, in order to guide you towards a multitude of resources reflecting the present-day professional discourse.” (p. 10)

If a reader wants to gain in-depth understanding of described concepts and ideas it is necessary to read some other works. Fortunately, authors include rich bibliography, which can serve as a source for further research about contemporary museum practices. There is plenty of good museology literature out there – therefore, do not wait too long! 🙂

new trends

The book cover.

Pokemania in the air

Urška Purg

It’s here and apparently it’s not going anywhere – Pokemon GO game, which flooded the world in a matter of days. It has managed to infiltrate into every place, even the cultural institutions, whether they like it or not. It has its pluses and minuses, among which not all are already known and are still emerging.

On its march, it did not forget to involve also the museums and galleries in any kind of manner – whether they host some newly self-employed little monsters or they offer PokeStop stations, where the players can refill for the hunt, or even call the wild Pokemons.

With the exception of a few museums and places of memory, like Auschwitz Memorial and Holocaust Museum Washington, majority of worldly known museums, such as MoMA, V&A, Museum of London, etc, accepted this special scavenger hunt game and the players with open arms. Even Slovene museums and galleries reacted to the new trend immediately; mostly by embracing the game and letting the potential audience know, they’re in it as well. They tried to tackle along, each in their own way.

There have already been a few articles, advising the museums, how to make the most out of it, even by investing in the game, boosting Pokemons, offering special Pokemon tours, etc. What is the least of the benefit museums could get out of this? By being a PokeStop, they at least attract the players, of broad age groups, although, surprisingly, the ones hanging out around the museums in Slovenia tend to be deep in their twenties. It does not necessarily mean those Pokémon seekers will ultimately enter the museums; however, they at least take a stop in front (in the worst-case scenario) and remember the name and the place. In Slovene case, that is already alot. Through this, maybe they will geolocate the museums in their mind maps, and just maybe, they will even return with a purpose of visiting one day. Although the last is a very idealistic scenario. To summarize, museums can suddenly get a large number of game enthusiasts in their yards, and it is up to their inventiveness, how they will react to that. How far should museums go with it, should be intertwined with their mission and vision.

Returning to the inappropriateness of the PokeStop though, what can museums do there? How can they influence the players and Niantic, to pull them out of this enchanted overlapping virtual-real world? Since the majority of the stops, glued on top of Niantic previous location game Ingress, tends to take place on the existing open air monuments, statues and cultural heritage spots, some of them might be inappropriate, in a way Auschwitz is. In Slovenia, players will suddenly get very familiar with all sorts of monuments, especially the ones from the period of WWII and post-WWII monuments and memorial boards, including the monument to victims of the WWII, which is supposed to be a place of respect, memory and peace. One can ask the holders of the game – Niantic – to remove the location, however at this point and with such a rush, the reply includes only a promise of taking the request in to a consideration as soon as they will manage.

Since this is by far the last such game, museums and other institutions will need to prepare themselves, in order to react properly to the world they will need to leave and fit in. Additionally, I can say from my own experience – being a total non-gamer – the game just sucks you in. If you don’t believe me, just try it out yourself. Moreover, it makes me wonder, what else the future will bring.


Pokemon trainers in front of National Museum of Contemporary History Slovenia. / Trenerji Pokemonov pred Muzejem novejše zgodovine Slovenije (foto: Monika Montanič).