Drinking Deeply from Museum Work-Milk in Switzerland & Uganda: An international coop between museums in Uganda & Ethnographic Museum at University of Zurich

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Thematic Focus:
Knowledge Production and Transfer
Involved Countries:
Switzerland, Uganda

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For around three decades, museum experts, curators and researchers have increasingly started to develop innovative strategies to challenge the violent historical burden and ideologies of colonial legacies inherent in museum collections. Against this background, numerous initiatives worldwide review their collection, research, communication and exhibition strategies.

Who to cooperate with to attain which objectives? Drawing on the expert knowledge and collections of three museums, this project aims at jointly working on an exhibition on milk in Kampala, Mbarara (Western Uganda) and Zurich. Hence, the cooperating institutions believe that there is great potential for the contemporary museum in bundling expertise in research and curating. As a guideline to the procedure of a reciprocal scientific and practical exchange, the partnership is reflected along Clifford’s (1997) concept of the ‘contact zone’ and its critical consideration by Robin Boast (2011). The process and collaboration was documented and nourished the debate of the future of the ethnographic museum.

In general, the research project’s goal was to initiate a reciprocal scientific and practical exchange and a two-sided learning process – it aims at establishing a cooperation to discuss museological and scenographic concerns and best practices in ethnographical exhibition planning on the background of a con- temporary call for post-colonial cooperation. In particular, the goals of the project are threefold and set out as follows:

  • Generating Knowledge: The first goal was to engage in the debate on the future of ethnographic museums in Europe as well as in Africa on the one hand and the debate on the potentials, requirements and purpose of international museum cooperation on the other. This goal can be considered to be a rather theoretical element of the project that attempts to generate new ideas regarding prospects of ethnographical museum work, to explore the opportunities of international cooperation in this field, and last but not least, to consolidate knowledge about the subject-matter chosen for the exhibition, the “milk-complex”.
  • Jointly Curating an Exhibition: The second goal is practical – the cooperation itself. The workshop does not only aim at a debate about museum work but tries to implement the findings within a concrete exhibition project. By jointly curating an exhibition about the technical, cultural, environmental, social, etc. implications of milk in Uganda and in Switzerland, the project aims at realizing a cooperation in the publicly exposed arena of a museum itself. This enterprise might lead to a traveling exhibition shown at different venues or it might end with the formulation of a basic exhibition concept containing a few shared elements only. The out- come of the practical cooperation is deliberately left open.
  • Documentation of Scientific Reflection on the Process of Cooperation: By jointly curating an exhibition, the project wants to reveal the commonalities and the differences of approaching such an endeavor by the involved institutions. A variety of perspectives, perceptions and best practices, a variety of assumptions, methods and aesthetical concepts are expected to be unraveled in line with the development of a joint exhibition and a shared narrative. Thus, the third goal is to document the reflection on the experiences and purpose of international muse- um cooperation through joint practice and participatory research.

Dr. Thomas Laely, Ethnographic Museum at the University of Zurich
Amon Mugume, Uganda Museum
Moses Kashure, Igongo Cultural Centre