As you might expect from a museum of the world’s cultures, the exhibitions at the Weltmuseum cover diverse ground. Pick up your fork and dig into the buffet of past offerings for a taste of what to expect from this fascinating institution.
(The linked articles only cover those specific exhibitions I wrote about in recent months and years.)
The Aztecs (2020/2021)
This one dealt with a few myths and points of ignorance. The Aztecs exhibition took us through the empire that flourished in what is now Mexico in the 15th and 16th centuries, exploring the culture, religion and economy of that legendary era.
Around 200 items from around the world lent weight and colour to the information, including some quite remarkable masks and statues.
Japan in the Meiji Era (2020)
Heinrich von Siebold arrived in Japan only a short while after the country first opened up to foreigners back in the late 19th century. A lot of the items he collected during his many years there found their way into the archives of the Weltmuseum and formed the basis of the Meiji era (1868-1912) exhibition.
The displays took us on a journey through an eclectic mix of objects: everything from fishing poles and kettles to golden statues and sword quivers.
The Majlis (2019-2020)
A fascinating exhibition and cooperation between Austria and Qatar that tackled the subject of cross-cultural dialogue.
The central exhibit was itself a manifestation of the Arabic concept of a “Majlis”. In this case, a sofa-lined space for discussion, interaction and a shared experience.
The rest of the displays highlighted items that reflect the idea of cultural exchange: 19th-century Turkish carpets with Chinese motifs and ceramics with multilingual inscriptions, to name just two examples.
Stories of traumatic pasts (2020-2021)
A poignant exhibition organised by the Academy of Fine Arts Vienna that looked at how societies have a nasty habit of conveniently forgetting or ignoring incidents and eras that reflect badly on them.
Stories of Traumatic Pasts focused on three particularly stark examples, namely Belgium’s colonial activities in Africa, the Yugoslavian civil war, and anti-semitism in Nazi Austria.
The works of numerous artists featured alongside insights from an interdisciplinary research project.
Faces at Prayer (2019-2020)
Katharina Heigl’s photo series highlighted the commonality of the human experience through portrait shots taken in Austria and Israel.
The photos showed devotees of different religions at prayer, but without identifying labels. This left us to focus on that shared humanity and to abandon value judgements based on religious affiliation and assumptions.
A Colonial Thing (2019-2020)
Colonialism, imperialism, and exploration have seen numerous artifacts make a journey from their homes to the museum cabinets of foreign powers. But how do you judge the legitimacy of such a process? What is theft and what is a reasonable business transaction? And what about intellectual property?
The A Colonial Thing exhibition explored the complexity of the issues surrounding the repatriation process. Each item on display came with the story behind its acquisition and featured the viewpoints of the original collectors, representatives of the source culture, and ethnographic scientists.
Metamorphosis. Brazil 1998 (2019-2020)
Another excellent photo exhibition showcased the work of Andrea Altemüller on her journey through the Brazilian rainforest. The displays highlighted the remarkable contrasts to be found in that unique environment.
So we gained insights into the life and surrounds of local ceramic artist, Izer Campos, as she interacted harmoniously with the forest. But we also saw the dystopian landscapes associated with deforestation and the scars left on man and land by the industrialisation of that process.