If the name Alma Karlin (1889-1950) rings no bells, you’re not alone. This world traveller largely disappeared from the public consciousness thanks to the dark influence of nationalism in Europe. An exhibition at the Weltmuseum allows you to rediscover this remarkable travel pioneer through her ethnographic collection and photographs.
- Insight into the life of this Slovenian travel writer, novelist and polyglot
- Ethnographic items drawn from her global travels in the 1920s
- A cooperation with the Regional Museum Celje
- Runs Sept 16, 2021 – Jan 18, 2022
- See also: Weltmuseum ticket and visitor tips
Alone around the world
(Alma with Erika; press photo © NUK)
Tragedy and adventure are often cousins. Think of poor Ferdinand Magellan. His early 16th-century naval expedition became the first to circumnavigate the globe, but he perished before the return to Spain.
Tragedy and adventure might also describe the life of another world traveller and pioneer: Alma Karlin saw her reputation crushed by nationalism, and she died in undeserved ignominy in 1950.
Karlin was born into a German-speaking family in 1889 in what is now Slovenia, but was then part of Austria-Hungary. Like many, Karlin found herself in an environment that pulled people in different directions according to their language and loyalties.
Perhaps this is why she caught the travel bug. After studying languages abroad, Karlin set off to tour the world in 1919 armed with little more than a typewriter, curiosity, and ambition.
What might seem normal these days (at least pre-pandemic) was far from normal back in the early 20th-century, particularly for a woman alone. And especially for a woman who had no meaningful support to finance her journey.
Karlin worked her way (literally and figuratively) through an eight-year journey that took her to, for example, the Americas, the Pacific islands and all over Asia before returning to her home town of Celje.
Her travel writings and other written works brought her significant fame, but those linguistic and nationalist issues eventually caught up with her.
Thanks to her declared anti-Nazi sympathies, she was arrested and only narrowly escaped deportation to a concentration camp during German occupation. And yet her German-speaking minority status saw her largely rejected by post-WWII Slovenia (part of Yugoslavia) and she died in poverty.
Slovenia and the wider world has since rediscovered the pioneering Karlin. The Regional Museum Celje, for example, held the Asia Utterly Bewitched Me exhibition in 2019 and 2020 that celebrated the centenary of the start of Karlin’s world journey.
During her travels, Karlin collected a variety of ethnographic objects, and these form the focus of the Alma Karlin exhibition at the Weltmuseum (in cooperation with the Celje museum). The exhibition also includes her photographs from the archives of the National Library of Slovenia.
Tickets and dates
A couple of other concurrent photo exhibitions might interest you, since both include a travel aspect. The Kunst Haus Wien has a Susan Meiselas retrospective, for example. And the Albertina’s American Photography exhibition (until late November, 2021) features the likes of Diane Arbus and Alec Soth.
How to get to the exhibition
Follow the tips at the bottom of the main Weltmuseum page. The museum occupies part of the grand Neue Burg wing of the Hofburg palace complex.
Address: Heldenplatz, 1010 Vienna