The Making of a Point of View. Spotlight on Indonesian and Malaysian collections - SWICH Project

Exhibition / Participatory practices

Museum: Museo delle Civiltà / Istituto Centrale per la Demoetnoantropologia  website
Years: 2015-2018

Museo delle Civiltà / Istituto Centrale per la Demoetnoantropologia

Even though museum’s heritage is mainly composed by material objects (historical ethnographic collections gathered from 17th and 20th centuries by missionaries, soldiers, scholars during the pre-colonial era), over the last years the intangible cultural heritage has been at the heart of Pigorini museum practices. ICH is not an explicit asset in the policy documents of our institution; however it has been an instrument to dialogue, engage and collaborate with museum audiences on different levels.

ICH has been used as a tool to contextualize objects and collections in permanent or temporary exhibitions (so, as an enlargement of the museum communication); the intangible culturale heritage community-based vision has been always stressed and enlightened in museum practices, through the organizations of public activities and events, enhancing cultural transmissions and intangible elements such as oral traditions, music, storytelling...

ICH has been also part of the perspective that animated different collaborative projects that the Museums has been carrying out with diasporas communities, such as READ-ME (Network of Ethnographic Museum and Diaspora Associations) 2009-2013 and SWICH Project (2015-2018).

The Making of a Point of View. Spotlight on Indonesian and Malaysian collections - SWICH Project

Description of the project / practice / program

The practices that we'd like to share is the participative process that we experimented for the exhibition "The Making of a Point of View, Spotlights on the Indonesian and Malaysian collections". The exhibition was part of the SWICH - Sharing a World of Inclusion, Creativity and Heritage project (, which reflects on the role of ethnographic museums with regard to the transformations of European society in a multicultural perspective. The aim of the project is to enhance the role, and increase the visibility, of ethnographic museums as centres of cultural encounter, open dialogue, innovative creation and knowledge starting from the collaboration with the diaspora communities and with artists. 

Within this perspective, a crucial moment was the reflection on the museum's Indonesian and Malaysian collections: our objective was to integrate two activities that formed part of the project, the artistic residence and the collaborative exhibition, while expanding the exchange between the museum's staff, H.H. Lim, the artist in residence, and the diaspora communities involved in the project. 

During the participative process we tried to reflect on cultural heritage starting from some questions: What is an object? What is a collection? What are the tools available, here and now, to understand a collection of objects from geographically and culturally distant contexts? How can we, today, restore the meaning of this cultural heritage in the contemporary world? Is it sufficient to put forth just one point of view on heritage?

The final restitution of the participative process presented four points of view on a part of the Museum's heritage with the aim of deconstructing classical exhibition methods of ethnographic collections by staging various ways of presenting objects collected during Nineteenth century geographical explorations and mixing the languages of contemporary art, autobiographical narration along with the historical and museographic approach.

Our intent was to state that we all have something to say about objects, even if they're not part of our cultural and identity heritage. We can observe them, manipulate them - physically and conceptually - and do other things with them, to the point of altering their shape.

The final result isn't a linear exhibition, rather four autonomous installations that interact both with each other and with objects, making them the starting point subject matter for creative, cognitive, training and rediscovery processes.

Thanks to the participative program, we involved different audiences in the exhibition desing process from the selection of objects to the setting-up, experimenting new way of presenting museum's collections and innovating our viewpoints on them, with particural regard to the in exhibition's communication tools. 

How were practitioners of intangible cultural heritage involved?

During the project we carried out a participatory process and we invited some representatives of the Indonesian community in Rome to explore with us the Asian collections depots, in an attempt to construct forms of reconnection between objects and subjects in the diaspora contexts. The collaboration with a part of Rome's Indonesian community, which took place through Alessya, Anas, Isma, Evan, Viciana and Vivaldi, six Indonesian young Indonesians studying in Rome, was aimed at finding an intimate and personal biography of the collections, through the emotional resonance that the objects triggered in the visions of our young mediators.  

During this process we tried to reactivate the dialogue between first and second generations via the mediation of the objects stored in the museum. The objects became "ambassadors", here in Italy, of visions of the world belonging to other cultural contexts and have been used as tools to activate relations between heritage, cultural institutions and communities of the diaspora. 

We worked on the theme of "diaspora objects" (P. Basu, Object Diasporas, resourcing communities: Sierra Leonean Collections in the Global Museumscape, 2011), with the aim of trying to re-establish relations between objects and migrants while attempting to create a re-contextualization of the collections within a global cultural panorama. The ethnographic objects are in fact inserted into complex dynamics of representation of cultural belonging, within which the museums, the territories of origin and the communities of the diaspora can communicate to recompose the contemporary meaning of the objects preserved and exhibited in the western ethnographic museums. 

In the final exhibition, Alessya, Anas, Isma, Evan, Viciana and Vivaldi created Diaspora objects: reconnections, a multi-vocal installation that presented different visions: the personal interpretation of the young mediators who present their vision of the objects to the public through the mechanism of memory, the vision of other members of the Indonesian community involved by the mediators themselves and, finally, the museographic description taken from the scientific literature. 

CV of the author

Rosa Anna Di Lella is a cultural anthropologist. She is part of the staff of the Istituto Centrale per la Demoetnoantropologia (Mibact) and a member of the Ethnographic Devision of the Museo delle Civiltà. She has been collaborating with several public and private institutions on museographic collaborative projects with migrant communities.


  • keep engaging different audiences in museum's activities, in order to reactivate the intangible dimension of our tangible collections (and go beyond this dichotomy)

  • make the most of the occasions of dialoguing with ICH-practitioners (that are frequently related to specific projects and programs), in term of reflection/transformation/innovation of our own work practices and with the aim to give back to the community in a way.



25 February 2019 from 15:35 to 15:35



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