The Musée d’Ethnographie de Genève reopened its doors to the public on 31 October 2014 after four years of construction work. The new building—whose structure exhibits the three Vitruvian qualities of firmitas, utilitas, and venustas (durability, usefulness, and beauty)— designed by the architects Marco Graber and Thomas Pulver, faces a pleasure garden created by the landscape artist Guido Hager. The new MEG is the fruit of a major investment programme undertaken by the City of Geneva, the Canton of Geneva, and the Association des Communes Genevoises. It offers the general public all the facilities and services that are expected of a truly contemporary museum—exhibition galleries and areas devoted to scientific and cultural educational programs that benefit from the latest scenographic devices: an auditorium with a stage for the living arts and digital projection, and a library; the museum also has a café-restaurant and a store and bookshop, all of which offer a welcoming and convivial atmosphere. The museum’s original building has been renovated and now houses the staff offices, workshops and technical equipment. Located in a developing part of the city—in the Jonction district near the confluence of the Rhone and Arve Rivers, next to Radio Télévision Suisse, the Université de Genève, and the Bains district, which is famous for its contemporary art galleries—, the MEG offers an increasingly enthusiastic and curious public a window onto the world’s diverse societies and cultures.
The MEG embodies the values of the city of Geneva and its exhibitions are, of course, adapted to all audiences and meet their specific requirements. The museum’s commitment as a Genevan institution is reflected in its policy of meeting all the needs and interests of its visitors, the policy of solidarity towards visitors from the most disadvantaged segments of the population, and initiatives that break down barriers and facilitate encounters and the sharing of experiences. This policy of openness is part of an ethical commitment to sustainable development. The MEG promotes cultural diversity and the study and understanding of diverse cultures. Inviting its visitors to discover other ways of interpreting the world and living in society, the museum also encourages them to take a critical look at our own complex and cosmopolitan society. The museum endeavours to promote multilingualism in all its areas of activity and thereby aims to be a museum that maintains close links with its visitors and the local population—people with particularly diverse geographical origins.
To live up to its name, the Musée d’Ethnographie must remain a museum of living and contemporary societies, while conserving historical objects. The contemporary visual and plastic arts have long been a part of the MEG’s exhibitions. Not only are they more predominant now than ever, but artists, craftsmen, and other creators have become more involved in the conception of the exhibitions and are regularly invited to meet the general public. The collaborations that begin with the populations whose culture, works, and objects are presented are expected to develop, because the new MEG aims to be a ‘forum’, a dynamic venue where ideas and views can be exchanged. It invites visitors to reflect, interact, discuss issues, and philosophize. Since the immaterial heritage is inseparable from material culture, the living arts are not overlooked: each exhibition is complemented by representations and musical and dance performances, which includes the most contemporary forms such as DJ mixes. Literature, oral traditions, photography, and ethnographic films are also part of the programme of regular encounters with the public. The exhibitions of the heritage collections are thus complemented by an extremely broad range of cultural expressions, which gives them more value and meaning. The MEG’s project aims to develop a universalist and truly global visual, musical, literary, and scientific culture.
The adoption of a historical approach aims primarily to illustrate the evolution of European perceptions of exotic cultures and to examine the changes in status conferred on objects in the various museums that preceded the MEG in Geneva. As a counterpoint to these historical testimonies, which are exhibited on a massive screen that radiates with light, Sea—a magnificent video work by the contemporary artist Ange Leccia which extends over 18 metres—provides a regular beat, an endless pulsation that evokes the natural measurement of time, perpetual movement, and the power of the elements that starkly contrast with the fragility of the various cultures.
A second visual work by Ange Leccia, based on musical compositions by Julien Perez, highlights the ethnomusicology display. The ‘Sound Chamber’ explores the relationship between sound and vision, as two related “realms of vibrations”.
The MEG advocates freedom on various levels: the museum encourages the freedom to think, observe, and immerse oneself in the world’s cultures, with no taboo themes or objects, and without imposed views; dogmas—both secular and religious— revisionism, and other impediments to clear thought have no place in the MEG, unless they themselves are the focus of study and analysis. The contemporary world is full of daily examples of clashes brought about by the conflicting values of societies and individuals; these values can be religious, economic, political, or moral. Given this context, the MEG aims to provide a highly tolerant environment, where one can broach—without fear of being taken to task—a whole range of questions relating to major contemporary themes, such as cultural relativism, universalism, globalisation, communitarianism, and affirmations of identity. It also intends to be a place where individuals can reflect, ponder, review, re-evaluate, and question, before forming an opinion, or arriving at a judgement. The MEG invites every visitor to reach their own conclusions about the world and its cultures.
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