“Tongue to tongue”. A collaborative exhibition

Museum of Anthropology and Ethnography of the University of Turin | CSA - Centre for African Studies | Turin

Lingua contro Lingua

· Museum of Anthropology and Ethnography of the University of Turin; CSA – Centre for African Studies, Turin
· “HoldenArt – Formule di narrazione”, Turin (an organisation devoted to exploring the potential of story-telling applied to museums)
· City of Turin – Department for Cultural Heritage Education.


Funding bodies
The project was funded by City of Turin – Department for Cultural Heritage Education within the framework of the European project “MAP for ID – Museums as Places for Intercultural Dialogue”.


· to experiment with innovative museology (a multi-vocal exhibition) based on participatory planning
· to promote a wider knowledge of the Museum of Anthropology and Ethnography’s collections from an intercultural communication perspective
· to promote the Museum as a “contact zone” between different cultural identities, and between past and present
· to provide first and second generation migrants and cultural mediators with genuine opportunities for self-representation and cultural re-appropriation of tangible and intangible heritages
· to provide cultural mediators with the skills to pursue their work in other contexts
· to provide Museum educators with intercultural dialogue skills
· to help audiences (and more in particular students from local secondary schools) look at the collections from different perspectives.


Target groups
· of the training course: a group of cultural mediators from Chad, Italy, Morocco, Congo, Romania and Senegal; education staff of the Museum of Anthropology and Ethnography
· of the exhibition: local students attending the last two years of secondary school; general public of the Museum of Anthropology and Ethnography and non-visitors (e.g. youths, immigrant communities).


Duration of the project
September 2008 (training course for mediators) – January 2009 (exhibition closed).


Project description
“Tongue to Tongue. A collaborative exhibition” is the ideal continuation of CSA’s “Migrants and Cultural Heritages” project, in whose framework cultural mediators took part in a first training course.
Mediators were involved in the planning and mounting of the exhibition, in close cooperation with the museum staff and an architect / exhibition planner. The “tongue” of the museum – institutional, scientific, didactic – engaged in a dialogue with the mediators’ “tongue” – autobiographical, evocative, emotional (hence the title of the exhibition, from the original title of a song by the group Radiodervish).
The new training course was designed to address specific issues related to the participatory planning of the exhibition.
Modules included:
· the intercultural mediation of heritages: comparing perspectives and experiences;
· storytelling as a heritage mediation tool (in this phase objects were selected from the Museum’s collection);
· planning workshops (defining narrative trails, exhibition contents, preparatory activities to be carried out in schools before the museum visit);
· effective communication (simulation of a preparatory meeting with students);
· mounting the exhibition.
Each mediator freely selected one or more objects, not necessarily directly related to their own cultural backgrounds, from the ethnographic collections of the Museum. In other words, mediators were free to choose the objects with which they identified culturally and/or emotionally – objects holding a particular significance for them, as they revealed sometimes unexpected links with their personal history, past and present, or with their knowledge and memories.
The selection of objects from the collection was followed by the planning of “narrative trails” in close cooperation with the Museum staff.
Finally, the objects were displayed in showcases alongside the “subjective heritage” of mediators (souvenirs, pictures, books, clothes…), thereby creating an impressive range of “autobiographical installations”.
The exhibition has been open to the public upon request from mid-November 2008 to the end of January 2009. The visit consisted in dialogical “narrative trails”, resulting from the interaction and exchange of knowledge/perspectives between a museum educator and a mediator. The former gave an account of the “journeys”, both geographical and museological, of the displayed object; through storytelling, while the latter helped the educator and the audience put the objects in context, by highlighting their history, their functions and interpretations, and sometimes their ideological use.
Preparatory activities (usually held in the classroom, but sometimes directly in the museum exhibition spaces) were planned for secondary schools, during which the mediators introduced students to their professional and migratory experience, explained the project, and acted as facilitators in brainstorming sessions around key words “assigned” to their respective “narrative trails” (music, clothes, representation, language, ancestors, rituals, tradition, cooking, writing). The outcomes of these sessions were reported on posters which were then placed at the bottom of the showcases, so that they became an integral part of the display both conceptually and physically.


Lessons to be learned
The key strengths identified by the project coordinator may be described as follows:
· participatory planning resulted not only in the development of “narrative trails” (interpretation), but also in the inclusion of mediators’ voices in display (with the help of the architect / exhibition planner, mediators curated their own showcases);
· storytelling was conceived as a mediation tool not only from a linguistic point of view, but also in order to: share both individual and institutional knowledge and perspectives; create and/or consolidate the “social value” of the museum to its audiences; promote the cultural citizenship of migrant communities;
· the autobiographical approach also allowed mediators to incorporate their individual (and migratory) stories in the exhibition spaces and displayed objects;
· the architect took part in all the planning phases, thereby playing the threefold role of exhibition designer, facilitator and “translator” of the mediators’ knowledge and expertise;
· the planning and implementation of the exhibition in the framework of the European project “MAP for ID – Museums as Places for Intercultural Dialogue” allowed the project team to share vision, experience and expertise (institutional missions, professional profiles, strategies and tools, strengths and weaknesses) with museums engaged in intercultural work across Europe. Participation in “MAP for ID” has also been a strong incentive for the Museum of Anthropology and Ethnography to promote a wider knowledge of its collections through an innovative, inclusive and dialogical methodology which may be replicated in future projects.


Some critical points also emerged, and more in particular:
· the actual opportunity for the trained mediators to be involved in future heritage education projects in an intercultural perspective;
· the evaluation both of the educational impact on participating schools and of the perception of the mediator’s role was not envisaged.


Publications / other resources
– a “dialogical” catalogue of the exhibition, distributed to schools and the visiting public, gathers and compares the scientific description of museum objects (partially reproduced and adapted from the main catalogue) with quotations from the “narrative trails” conceived and developed by the mediators, therefore highlighting the intercultural nature of the project

– the final publication of MAP for ID project: S. Bodo, K. Gibbs, M. Sani (eds.), Museums as places for intercultural dialogue: selected practices from Europe, 2009.

Contact details
CSA – Centro Piemontese di Studi Africani
via Vanchiglia 4/e – 10124 Torino
tel. 011.4365006
– Anna Maria Pecci, project coordinator

Target Groups

- of the training course and participatory planning process: a group of cultural mediators from Chad, Italy, Morocco, Congo, Romania and Senegal; education staff of the Museum of Anthropology and Ethnography
- of the collaborative exhibition: local students attending the last two years of secondary school; general audience of the Museum of Anthropology and Ethnography, and non-visitors (e.g. youths, immigrant communities)