Research Week - Representing Hybrid Cultures at the Tropenmuseum

After asking her to slow down, I finally managed to scrawl some notes about our dear Serena's presentation, which it has to be said was fascinating. Recently returned from another case study, she presents some thoughts on her first - the Tropenmuseum in the Netherlands.

Ethnographic museums always represent different cultures. It is part of what they are. But now they face a new challenge, which is the representation not of the 'Other', but of the multicultural societies in which is neither 'There, Then and Other', but 'Here, Now and Us'. Serena asks how we can challenge the narratives of seperation within ethnographic museums in a world where 'culture' is, perhaps, becoming seen as an increasingly fluid concept? We need to engage with hybridization and develop alternative collecting and exhibition strategies to articulate the blurred boundaries between individuals and groups. To examine how this might be possible, she has been investigating various case studies, one of which is the Tropenmuseum.

This is located in Amsterdam, and though it was the first colonial museum in Europe, is very adaptive and reactive to political change. Its' last refurbishment, which ended in 2008, has meant that the permanent galleries have all, bar two, retained a geographic approach to their displays. However, within these galleries, themes and links are drawn out. There are two galleries, however, which do not conform to this, and it is upon one of these, 'Travelling Tales' which Serena concentrates the remainder of her analysis. Responding to the UNESCO convention on Intangible Heritage, it tried too to offer something for EVERYONE - from 0-100 years old - using mulitple semiotic resources, objects, videos and documents. There is no set route through the display - you make your own choices. The idea of the gallery is that stories aren't static - and of course, and Serena points out, neither is culture. Through its design, the gallery aims to show cultural diversity and fluidity - this isn't about 'The Migrant' experience, but about everyone.

The layout of the exhibition was based around drops of water, dripping and sending out ripples. The centres of the drops were the universal themes, and the ripples housed the formations of these themes into the stories and narratives of various groups over time. Unbounded NL, the last section of the gallery, changes the focus to stories in multicultural Amsterdam now.

Serena points out that this is a very successful exhibition in terms of how it displays cultural fluidity, and show that museums have much potential in contributing to this discourse. I have to say, it sounds like a display that I REALLY want to go to...Thanks Serena!


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