Last week I was lucky enough to spend a couple of days at the Museum of World Cultures (MWC) in Gothenburg, Sweden (http://bit.ly/HUHAvr). I last visited the museum back in 2006 in a previous incarnation as Project Curator at the International Slavery Museum (http://bit.ly/izKSQ). This most recent visit was the culmination of my participation in the British Museum Fresh Leads project which was funded by Arts Council England. You can find out more about Fresh Leads in the British Museum’s 2012/13 UK partnership review.
I was drawn back to MWC after hearing about their latest exhibition Secret Love. This contemporary art exhibition about LGBT experience and culture in China was equally as cutting edge as those I’d seen back in 2006 such as No Name Fever. Both content and design were inimitably MWC – uncompromising, raw, and most of all bold. This boldness suffused their associated public programme too. Working intimately with West Pride (http://bit.ly/1dMECUq) performances and events included Prejudice and Pride – The Norms of Functionality and Sexuality, What Happens in Russia and Why?, and Being Deaf and Gay. MWC headed this programme schedule with the refreshingly direct title West Pride – This Happens at the Museum.
Such intrepidness has allowed MWC to position itself as an internationally renowned site of critical museological discourse. It eloquently combines the local Gothenburg radical politico-cultural scene, not entirely dissimilar from Manchester, with the universal narratives encompassed by globalisation. The impermanence of each gallery and the unrivalled exhibition turnover rate has kept WMC enviably current. However, its latest project is a departure from the temporary as the core ethnographic collection will be permanently displayed en masse on site. For a discursive museum more familiar with concept than object this is a challenge. In playful WMC style creative solutions are being explored in the Test Room where ethnographic curatorial orthodoxies are re-imagined and objects scrutinised.
Relocating a traditional ethnographic collection at the heart of such a dynamic and reflexive institution has spectacular potential. Just as the recent re-displays at Manchester Museum have proved, with the right combination of ideas, ambition and collaboration, object centred projects can be transformational. Following my many conversations with Swedish colleagues last week I’m convinced that the results will be tantalisingly distinct and unmistakably WMC.