Monday, February 10, 2014

Museums have greater role to play, says International Council of Museums present Hans Martin Hinz


New Delhi Museums have a greater roles to play — beyond archiving of socio-cultural documenta and historical  objects de arts — in crisis-riven developing world, ravaged by violent social transformations, conflicts and new manifestos of change as mediators, liaions and catalysts of new cultural processes that desseminate disparities and differences without comprisning on the spirit of conflict to lend voice to the variety. 
"Twenty-five years ago, when the wall came down in Berlin, museums laid out the groundwork for cultural reunification of the Communist and the democratic Germany with exhibitions about the soicial, cultural and aesthetic lives of the people on either side through collaborative ventures — preparing people with knowledge of life beyond the walls," professror Hans Martin Hinz, preident of the International Council of Museums, said in New Delhi, in an informal interview on the sidelines of an lecture on "Global Trends in Museum". Hinz was trying to outline the greater role that museums — especially the International Council of Museums which benefits more than 20,000 museums worldwide with intervention projects — have been playing to create new cultural regimes that are more inclusive and peaceful.
"We had two different countries — one had Communist leadership with very limited access to the world. People could not leave the country easily to travel to the west. It fell on the museums on both side to tell the people what was happening on the other side of the country. The museums of erstwhile east and west Germany worked together to prepare exhibitions about the lives of their brothers and sisters beyond the walls. In the 1990s, huge mount of time, resources and work went into putting together such exhibitions that were discussed heavily in the media. Such musuem exhibitions played a key role in reunification process - forming a vital aspect of museum development in contemporary times. Collections were split and had to be reorganised," HInz said. 
Museums must "help with historical and cultural e4ducation" in such conflicting situations, HInz pointed out. "Many museums still have the conservative idea that primary objective of a national archive is to display historical artifacts. They fail to realise that museums have to serve societies— this is a role that museums have been developing the world over in the last decade to present themes that are important to people today than just presenting the past. The museums of today are striving to bring people together so that they learn from each other in the backdrop of the artifacts. They get to hear the voices of others — about two cinflicting parties, hostile religious groups. The aim is to allow the conflicting parties speak through the museum exhibitions - hear the voice of the other group and arbitrate who is right or wrong through discourses. Usually, exhibitions present on side of the story - address one particular group whifch they claim have the truth. When people walk through such exhibitions, they look at the truth from one perspective and they never start thinking about how to overcome such conflicting aituations," Hinz said. Museums should enable people to "interact in a spirit of mutual understanding - which is the first step in accepting the other position and percpetion in a conflict situation", the present of International Council of Museums 
HInz said in India, several museums have been "reaching out to potential visitors of tomorrow like in several other countries — to show original objects in classrooms so that teachers and students get "feeling of what is original object - which forms an important aspect of history". The outreach exercise has been described as "living museums"— taking museums out of the confines of institutional spaces to people. "Museums ofte invite teachers to educate them about certain exhibitions so that teachers can take the students to these exhibitions with better backgrounding and better prepareness about the cultural contexts," Hinz said.
The museologist said the "International Council of Museums",  which has two caregories of functions, internal and external, has broabased its activity to include cultural revival as well. "The internal function is primarily capacity building. We offer structures under which museum professionals can regularly meet each other to carry the movement forward. This dialogue is a hge step forward because most museums face the same issues and same problems in the process of development. Networking is therefore of importance in the internal functioning of ICOM," HInz said. 
The external aspect is "protection of cultural heritage". "Organsiations like the ICOMOS, Unesco and Blue Shield have been working together to protect cultural heritage- disaster relief tasks in towns and cities where cultural heritage is at risk. We then begin to think creative about how to help the country," Hinz pointed out, citing an example of an ICOM SoS intervention in Cairo. 
An ICOM dossier said "aemergency mission led by a delegation from ICOM, Unesco and Blue Shields flew to Cario on January 30, 2014  for three day mission to draw up a contingeny plan to restore damaged artifacts at the Islamic Musuem and the National Library of Egypt at Bab el-Khalq place, destroyed in a car bomb attack a week earlier".    
The mission met Mohammed Ibrahim, Minister of State for Antiquities of Egypt, as well as the directors, curators and conservators of both the institutions. They carried out an in-depth assessment of the damage to the building and the collections.The building at Bab al-Khalq Place was erected from 1889–1903 to house the Museum of Arab Antiquities –later known as the Museum of Islamic Art (since 1952) and the Islamic Museum (since 2007) – and the National Library of Egypt.
The blast at 6.02am on January 24 destroyed parts of the building including electricity installations, fire and water networks and air condition systems. While “the architectural substance of the building was safe”, according to architect Riccardo Giordano, who participated in the mission, there was huge damage to the collections held by both the National Library of Egypt and the Islamic Museum. The conservators of both institutions acted immediately and saved many of the exhibited objects from further damage and destruction.Regine Schulz, member of ICOM’s Executive Council and Director/CEO of the Roemer- and Pelizaeus-Museum in Hildesheim (Germany), made together with Christian Manhart (UNESCO), the architect Riccardo Giordano and Shadia Mahmoud (Ministry of Antiquities, Egypt) a first round of assessment of the damage and collective study with the teams of the two institutions. 
The whole museography of the Museum of the National Library and of the Islamic Museum was destroyed, though bulk of the manuscripts and scrolls was protected by the bullet-proof showcases. Some 326 objects were exhibited in the Museum of the National Library including seven rare manuscripts and three papyri which suffered water damage, two in cases severe. “The situation in the Islamic Museum was even worse.”, Schulz said, “Because several of the large wood, bronze and glass objects were displayed without glass protection, the damage and destruction are very serious”. In January 2014 a total of 1,471 objects were on display. Of these, 164 were completely destroyed, badly damaged or missing until now, including 61 ceramics (vessels and tiles), 54 glass objects, 20 metal works, 18 wood works, five stone objects, five pieces of jewellery and one golden coin. Additional damage was mainly caused by running water unleashed by the fire fighting system which could not be stopped immediately and by the scattered glass resulting from broken windows and showcases. All damaged objects must be cleaned very carefully, and glass fragments and other remains from the blast removed.
UNESCO had set aside emergency funds of 100,000 US Dollars on the same day the blast took place stating that “measures for the rehabilitation of these two institutions and their collections will shortly be submitted by UNESCO to potential donors in Egypt and abroad.” The assessment mission report helped raise funds to repair the damages in the two Egyptian institutions.
Since the 2011 uprising, ICOM has been following the events in Egypt closely. In 2011, ICOM published an Emergency Red List of Egyptian Cultural Objects at Risk as a tool to disseminate information and raise public awareness of the fight against illicit trafficking of cultural objects. ICOM’s Disaster Relief Task Force also reported on the burnt down Institut d’Egypte in December 2011 (source ICOM report) .
"The project is still underway," Hinz said. The International Council of Museums has prepared a red list as well to retreive "pilfered" artifacts in Syria, Afghanistan, Mali, Egypt and Iraq. "The red lists have been sent out cultural stakeholders, including art dealers, in the respective countries to inform the ICOM about the appearance of the objects on the list for sale in the markets. We have been able to return thousands of such objects to the museums," Hinz said.
Commenting on the broad global trends in museum movement, Hinz said, "the national musuems in countries like Japan, Africa, Germany, Latin America and the Balkan region have spearheading movements to address culturally sensitive issues like Holocaust, wars, Nazism, Facism, ethnic conflicts, racism  and miilitary repression - earlier banned in public places because of the trauma associated with them". In South Africa, museums like in Germany had played a "mediating role" in the anti-aprtheid and reconciliation process- healing social wounds with theme-based exposition while in South America- memorial museums became commemorative archives for martyrs of military dictatorships. 
Museum as a concept was born in Italy, HInz said. "In the 15th century Europe, townhouses and palaces of rich merchants became the important collection houses. The owners often invited artists to present the arts and artifacts collected by the family in a way that prsentations made history. The other important centres of collections were the armouries and arsenals of Europe. In the late 18th and 19th century, many of these collection houses opened to people. The 20th centiry saw the several smaller neigbourhhod museums for the local people to tell and archive their stories. The former colonial archives, which later became national museums in the post-colonial era, are the repoirtories and devices of change — donning many hats to prepare for new social orders in the era of globalisation by documenting history as it has been," Hinz said. The role of the museum is now more complex and nuanced than before.
-Madhusree Chatterjee      .                  


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