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Changing museums’ look

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Gomani Chindebvu

Museums are an important hub to society because they, among other things, help in promoting and preserving culture.

Museums are supposed to be places where people should frequent and this is the case in Europe and America where these places are popular and always flooded by people.

But this is a different story in Malawi where museums, despite stocking important items, are rarely visited and yet these are places where people can make educational visits and learn a lot.

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Some quarters have had it that museums in the country are still living in the past with nothing but the same old stuff in its collection and that they have failed to move with the times.

“They need to move with the times and change their face and at the same time rebrand. For instance we have a younger generation that is always on social media and for them to attract this generation then they have to do something. I have visited some museums outside the country which have completely changed,” said Bright Kandoje.

Kandoje also said museums in the country need to grow its base and bring in a variety of items including creating other programmes to interact with the people.

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“It’s not too late, they can change but for now they need to work up from their slumber. Of course, I know the biggest challenge they are facing to the other side is funding,” he said.

And true to his words, museums in the country are given little in terms of funding and this whole issue lies in the fact that the government still does not give arts and culture the necessary support.

But despite the challenges of funding, Department of Museums & Monuments as well as Departments of Arts still continues to operate.

Feeling a sense of improving its works and attracting the masses, Department of Museums & Monuments has slowly started moving with the times and that includes embracing technology.

The department recently launched a temporal exhibition which is part of reviving its operations at Chichiri Museum in Blantyre.

Director of Museums and Monuments, Elizabeth Gomani Chindebvu, said during the launch of the proverb inspired art exhibition that museums besides being centres of research and informal education centres have previously been only thought of as places where old stuff is kept.

Chindebvu said these days this notion is changing and that museums are places where technological advances are displayed so that even the common person can have access to it.

“We have to admit we have taken time to embrace technology but we are changing and we have plans to bring in a lot and so this exhibition is part of an innovation where oral traditions have been translated into pieces of art that everyone, especially the youth can access,” Gomani Chindebvu said.

Before the launch of this temporal exhibition which will run for close to six months, Department of Museums & Monuments also held a cultural week which brought together several traditional dances.

Looking at some of the works on display which contains folktales, the department has done well and no wonder students from different schools were all over trying to sample some of the works.

But running for over six months, the museum needs to make sure it changes some of the works on the table to avoid staleness.

It is also worth appreciating that Chichiri Museum apart from having its own works has also added another corner which has works done by other artists such as Panji Tembo.

This is what museums need to do, they have to be vibrant and active and always on its toes creating new projects that could attract people.

“As informal education centres, museums need to have at least two temporally exhibitions annually. This will entice more visitors to the museum and therefore reach out to more people than is the case currently,” the director said.

With the reforms that have enabled the birth of the Department of Museums and Monuments, the director, said they plan to increase the frequency of the temporally exhibitions than they have done in recent years.

“This will help the department to be in constant contact with the public that visits the museum and so it calls for support,” Gomani Chindebvu said.

A student from one of the primary schools in Blantyre, Bright Phiri, who is in Standard Six, said he visits the museum but not frequently.

“There is so much to learn here and I am happy with the new items they have put up that is why you saw me copying some of them. Some of those folktales come during examinations. Again I like the setup which appeals to us the youth,” Phiri said.

He also said he was happy to hear that the museum will be putting up a lot of activities.

Gomani Chindebvu said the exhibition is one activity under “The Promotion and Conservation of National Cultural Heritage” programme which has been implemented through funding from the Royal Norwegian government.

She said the first agreement of the programme was implemented from 2003 to 2006 followed by two renewals of the agreement after the successful implementation of the activities agreed upon by the Norwegian government and the Malawi government.

The director said this third phase of the programme has a number of components which seeks to preserve, promote and develop Malawi’s cultural heritage.

Some of the components include development of an annual calendar of cultural and artistic events, rehabilitation of some monuments and research which has contributed to the inscription of Tchopa dance on the Unesco’s Representative List Intangible Cultural Heritage.

Some of the works featured in the temporal exhibition include a drawing by Kelvin Maigwa.

In the drawing, a person sets out on a long journey anticipating to buy food along the way.

Unfortunately, he found no food. The proverb teaches people to take advantage of opportunities as they come and the proverb is Strike while the iron is hot.

There is also embroidery on the proverb, You cannot eat your cake and have it. The embroidery depicts a person and two huts at his disposal. The person kept running from one shelter to the other in the rains until he got soaked.

The shelter, according to the proverb represents sexual partners and that the person was not satisfied with the sexual partners and contracted HIV/Aids.

The proverb teaches people the importance of faithfulness between partners in order to reduce the spread of HIV.

“So we are catching up and embracing technology, of course change takes time but we are changing and we want to attract more visitors,” she said.

Museums have surely got to change and that change has to start now.

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