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.
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(The linked articles only cover those specific exhibitions I wrote about in recent months and years.)
Dust and Silk (2021/2022)
Talk of the silk road(s) and you might think of Venetian explorers, camel trains, and the spice trade. But you’d be out by a few centuries.
The Dust and Silk exhibition examined the regions along the silk routes from various historical and contemporary perspectives.
Alma Karlin (2021/2022)
A rediscovery, so to speak. The Alma Karlin exhibition proved a chance to learn about this remarkable pioneering traveler and writer.
The Slovenia-born Karlin (1889-1950) spent years touring the world, typewriter in hand, supporting herself . The displays featured, for example, the ethnographic items she collected and her photographs.
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.
Now you see me Moria (2021-2022)
An exhibition of photos from the refugee camps in Greece, but with a key difference: the photographers here were all refugees in the camps themselves.
The raw honesty of the photographs and the humanity expressed by the captions invited us to face the kind of questions we might often prefer not to answer.
Dark Pairing (2021-2022)
Contemporary artist Wie-yi T. Lauw used images of plants and yarn to represent colonial rule but also to invite reflection on (and evaluation of) colonial concepts.
Dark Pairing appeared as part of an EU-funded cooperation, where museums use their location and collections to catalyse critical thinking about the earth’s past and how we might move toward a better future.
A companion exhibition to the Calle Libre street art festival featuring contemporary works by eleven artists.
The Re:Present exhibition invited us to reassess, for example, traditional Eurocentric and white-dominated perceptions of the (imperialist) past.
I saw more than I can tell (2021-2022)
Photos of indigenous North Americans dressed in traditional garb normally imply colonialist- or Euro-centric bias. Not with Christine Turnauer’s exhibition, though.
The photographer returned agency and control to the subjects of the photos (taken in 1986), thus avoiding stereotypes and managing to turn questionable historical documentary approaches on their head.
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.