SWICH Closing Meeting/Conference at Weltmuseum Wien, 6 & 7 September 2018. The SWICH closing meeting was organised in the form of a conference, it invited critical engagement with the questions of the present and future roles of ethnographic museums within a changing Europe.
Coming at the end of the EU funded SWICH project, a collaborative alliance between ten ethnographic museums in Europe, the conference explored the multiple ways that these museums have tackled and continue to tackle contemporary challenges surrounding questions of citizenship and belonging, and of (who owns) cultural heritage in the post-colonial, post-migrant Europe of today.
The conference took place in 2018, the year designated by the European Union as the European year of Cultural Heritage. Under the theme, Our heritage: where the past meets the future, the year has been dubbed a moment to celebrate ‘the past to build the future’, and to ‘discover what is cultural heritage and why it is important.’ But what pasts we do celebrate or what possible futures can be imagined are not always self-evident. The urgency of the current political moment across Europe and the USA may however provide some clues, inviting deeper, more critical engagement with questions such as What is Europe, Who is the European, indeed, What constitutes European heritage today.
In this, the closing event of SWICH, the project partners wanted to take ethnographic and world cultures museums, their histories, their collections and their practices, as a lens through which to address these questions. Enmeshed in a necessary and protracted critique about their histories and futures, the museums have been responding to questions about the shifting socio-political landscape in Europe today. Some of these responses have been criticised for being symbolic, belated and not going far enough, as well as for not sufficiently and seriously addressing the global implications of these discussions.
This conference and the SWICH project more generally, like the earlier projects before it (RIME and ReadME I and II), engaged with both the criticisms and responses not simply as a demand for self-reflexive practices, or internal to the museum, but as connected to broader national and international struggles about how to deal with (colonial) histories and their afterlives in present.
This also tackled questions of political and cultural definitions of citizenship and belonging to present-day Europe in relationship to a broader world. The practices developed within SWICH that have responded to questions of decolonisation, inclusion and diversity, as well as the challenges raised by the project, were taken as points of departure. The title of the conference refers to a Colonised World to emphasize that our global realities are strongly shaped and influenced by colonialism.
Invited speakers reflected on themes such as “Non-European Perspectives on Colonialism”, “Diversity in Curatorship” and “Building Networks” which will all continue to be of importance for ethnographic museums in the years to come.
Finally, the conference took the politics of voice as an organising principle of conversation, by critically refocussing on how concepts of voice, listening, and dialogue, have shaped our practice (indeed have shaped the discipline of anthropology). The participants reflected on how these concepts were mobilised not only during the SWICH project, but how they should continue to shape the work of the participating museums. Moreover, the question of how to fashion more transformative politics of voice into the future were of importance.
Welcome and Introduction, 1.30 p.m.
Claudia Augustat (Weltmuseum Wien), Steven Engelsman (Leiden), Laura van Broekhoven (Pitt Rivers Museum, Oxford)
Panel 1: Non-European Perspectives on Colonialism in Museums
2.00 p.m. – 6.00 p.m. Chair: Claudia Augustat, Weltmuseum Wien.
Throughout the SWICH project, discussions often revolved around the question of how to address the colonial past, both as an issue for ethnographic museums, but also its articulation within broader discussions of how colonialism shapes our contemporary national, regional and global realities. From a European perspective, this is sometimes perceived as if it is simply an issue distinct to ethnographic museums, or presented as a uniquely European problem, failing to address global perspectives or the interconnected nature of these issues. The panel therefore foregrounded the non-European perspectives. It considered the standpoint of scholars from formerly colonised states, and the role of European ethnographic and world cultures museums not only in shaping where we are today but also their possible roles for fashioning future practices.
+ Áile Aikio (University of Lapland):Gulahallat ja seanadit. A Sámi perspective how to amend the colonial relations in museum
+ Amy Lonetree (University of Santa Cruz): Museums and the Legacies of Settler Colonialism in the United States Discussion
+ Asoka de Zoysa and Ganga Dissanayaka (University of Kelaniya): National Museum today, a site of nostalgia?
+ Sang Hoon Jang (National Museum Korea):Overcoming colonial narratives in a postcolonial national museum
Panel 2: Diversity in Curatorship 09.30 a.m. – 1.00 p.m. Chair: Michel Lee, National Museums of World Culture, Stockholm This panel brings together two main themes of the SWICH project: Stereoculture: The Art of Listening and Creative Dialogue. Many museums of ethnography and world culture have been trying to re-invent their practices to fashion our institutions as creative, dynamic spaces. Concepts such as inclusion, poly-vocality or participation have become key concepts within the work that we do.
Several ethnographic museums have opened their storages for members of heritage and diaspora communities. Additionally, contemporary artists are invited to use museum collections as sources of inspiration for the creation of works of art or projects of cultural critique. Such practices are seen as fruitful, especially as they facilitated a sharing of authority and voice. What does this mean for curatorial departments inside museums? How can we rethink the role of the curator in the long term? How can concepts like diversity, shared authority, knowledge democracy and multi-vocal approaches become more sustainable and not just a temporary phenomenon? What does this mean for how these museums do their work within shifting global politics?
+ Camilo Antonio (UrbanNomadMixes, Vienna): Born with multiple choice, making sense of multiple voice
+ Lotten Gustafsson Reinius (Nordic Museum, Stockholm): The Tentacular museum: on the curation of poly-vocal knowledge growth
+ Alexander Martos and Niko Wahl (Volkskunde Museum, Vienna): On the Museum of Worldlessness at the Volkskundemuseum Wien Discussion
+ Tal Adler (Humboldt University Berlin):Artistic Collaborations Beyond Interventions and residencies
+ Heather Ahtone (American Indian Cultural Centre and Museum, Oklahoma City): Lessons learned & imagining the future
+ Christina Kreps (University of Denver): Intercultural Curation as a Model for Engaging Difference
Panel 3: Building Networks – Learning from Experiences
2.30 p.m. – 5.30 p.m. Chair: Loretta Paderni, Museo delle Civiltà, Rome
One important aspect of the SWICH project was to allow partner museums to build a platform of theoretical reflections on and exchange of practices. It has intensified the relationship among museum professionals, fostered the debate on the mission and roles of ethnographic museums, and created a sense of community throughout many of these museums in Europe. This panel aimed to expand this community to other European networks of museums and cultural institutions focusing on intercultural dialogue, the social role of museums, the legacy of difficult and contentious heritages, and the relationship between museum, memory and diaspora communities. What are the main challenges faced during the collaboration between various museums/institutions? How can different experiences be shared and communicated to a wider audience? What are the crucial points emerged during the EU programmes?
+ Elena Montanari (Politecnico di Milano, MeLa): MeLa European Museums in an Age of Migrations: An Overview, Looking Backword and Forword
+ Karin Schneider (University of Applied Arts, Vienna, TRACES): Initiating Processes of Conflict Learning and Un/Learning in a Ethnographic Collection – Action Research at the Weltkulturen Museum Frankfurt in the context of the TRACES Project
+ Margherita Sani (Istituto Beni Culturali, Bologna, NEMO:The after-life of a European project: legacy, sustainability, opportunities
4.30 p.m. Final Discussion
6.00 p.m.: Book Presentation
The Art of Being a World Culture Museum Futures and Lifeways of Ethnographic Museums in Contemporary Europe. Edited by Barbara Plankensteiner. Photography by Wolfgang Thaler. Published by Kerber Verlag. The book presentation concludes with a reception.
Design of announcement by Kathi Reidelshöfer