INTG presentation, 25.3.14


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INTG presentation, 25.3.14

  1. 1. The Ethnic Diversity of Laos: A Museum Perspective Tara Gujadhur Co-Director, Traditional Arts and Ethnology Centre INTG, 25 March 2014
  2. 2. Outline • Introduction • Ethnic Diversity of Laos • Traditional Arts and Ethnology Centre • TAEC‟s communities • Working with source communities • Summary and lessons learned
  3. 3. Traditional Arts and Ethnology Centre • Started by Tara Gujadhur and Thongkhoun Soutthivilay in November 2005 • Dearth of accessible, accurate and engaging information on Laos‟ ethnology • Start-up funding from private donors and foundations Opened in July 2007 in heritage building in Luang Prabang • Private, non-profit • Dedicated to the understanding and preservation of ethnic diversity in Laos
  4. 4. Local context • Luang Prabang, UNESCO World Heritage Site in north of Laos • Over 400% growth in tourism in last decade • Lao PDR is still a developing country, 83% of the population is rural and dependent on agriculture-based livelihoods • Ethnic minorities make up a disproportionate share of the poor
  5. 5. Mission • “To promote pride and appreciation for the cultures and knowledge of Laos’ diverse peoples, support ethnic communities to safeguard their tangible and intangible cultural heritage, and promote their sustainable livelihood development.” • Not a strict museum-type institution
  6. 6. Activities • Exhibitions • Research • Preservation and Documentation • Education • Advocacy and livelihoods
  7. 7. Exhibitions • Permanent exhibition with text, photographs, objects • Temporary exhibits – currently “Carving a Community: The Katu People” • Archival lighting, mounting and rotation of objects • Attempt to show changing lifestyles, the contemporary and the traditional
  8. 8. Research, Preservation and Documentation • Collection of over 400 objects, 30 ethnic groups • Use locally appropriate archival methods • Collaborate with anthropologists • Try to document changing ways of life and ICH • Not all objects are “antique”
  9. 9. Education/Outreach • Small library • School outreach • Ethnic youth internships • Guides training • Museum capacity-building
  10. 10. Advocacy and Livelihoods • Rural ethnic minorities are poorest in Laos • Over 600 producers – 50% of income from shop goes directly to communities • Promote livelihoods based on traditional skills through the Museum Shop • Support ethnic minority pride and identity-building
  11. 11. TAEC tries to provide: • Public resource for learning, study and research on Laos‟ ethnology • Informative and engaging exhibit to help tourists and Lao to appreciate a more pluralistic and sensitive view of ethnic diversity • More responsive representation of ethnic diversity with a view to cultural, political, and socio-economic changes
  12. 12. Ethnic Diversity in Laos • Laos is one of more diverse countries in this region • About 6.7 million • Tai Lao, 55% of population • 49 officially recognised groups
  13. 13. Ethnic Diversity in Laos • Historical categorisation: – Lao Loum: inhabitants of lowlands, valleys and riverbanks, between 200-400 meters altitude. – Lao Theung: inhabitants of mountain slopes and upland valleys of 300-900 meters altitude. – Lao Soung: inhabitants of mountain summits, between 800 and 1,600 meters altitude. • Oversimplified representation of the country‟s ethnic make-up
  14. 14. TAEC Exhibits • Try to move away from categories • Focus on specific aspects of cultural and social life of a select number of groups • Depict both traditional and contemporary practices • Moving towards thematic representations
  15. 15. TAEC’s communities 1. Tourists – 25,000 kip entry ticket for foreigners – Lao citizens enter free – 80,000+ foreign visitors to date – Foreign tourists read about it in guidebook or brochure – Foreign tourists accustomed to museum experience
  16. 16. TAEC’s communities cont’d 2. Lao visitors – Around 10% of visitors – Need to be drawn in, engaged, facilitated – Many view TAEC as a shop or tourist site – Children‟s outreach activities – Local students and researchers
  17. 17. TAEC’s communities cont’d 3. Ethnic minority communities – TAEC‟s “source communities” – Research in communities – primarily on exhibition content – Collection acquisitions and documentation – Handicraft development and sales – Community cultural revitalisation
  18. 18. Engaging source communities and building relationships • Exhibition content based on and enhanced by primary research – Field visits by TAEC team about twice a year, mostly north of Laos • Identifying communities • Approaching and engaging communities – First approach formal village leadership; village chief and elders – Community knowledge persons – Language and gender barriers (issues of “voice”) – Community cultural mapping
  19. 19. Engaging communities and applied research • Building relationships – Informal, friendly, steady – “Give and take” – Photos – Emergency assistance and supplies – Visits to TAEC – Directors main point of contact – Livelihoods through handicrafts
  20. 20. Handicrafts and livelihood development • Museum Shop – Distinctive village handicrafts based on traditional arts – Handwoven textiles, bamboo weaving, embroidery, hand- worked silver, applique, batik, pottery – Primarily from source communities – Challenging, time-intensive process
  21. 21. Importance of handicrafts and museum shop for source communities • Important supplementary source of income for vulnerable communities • Extend loans, prepayments, design input and fair prices • Average of 50% of shop income returns to communities • Benefits to women and families • Currently supports over 600 producers in 30 communities
  22. 22. Cultural safeguarding and representation • Challenges of a museum representing living cultures • In a developing country, the issue is even more acute – Changes in community cohesion, religion, social norms, education – Cash dependency, sale of cultural artefacts – Integration into the majority culture
  23. 23. Documentation of ICH • Documentary photography (not posed, series documenting an activity) • Life stories (recorded audio-visually) • Video and film of ceremonies, activities, production of objects
  24. 24. Key Questions • How to empower these communities in their own identity building process? • Can the museum play a role in community recognition of its local resources, traditional skills and identity? • How can the museum actively partner with a source community?
  25. 25. Splendour and Sacrifice “Taoism in Northern Laos” • Research and exhibition project funded by US Embassy • 2009 – 2011 • Objective: “To document the religious rituals of the Iu Mien and Kim Di Mun ethnic minorities of northern Laos, to recognize the importance that Taoist and shamanistic rituals play in their identity, and to promote appreciation and preservation of these cultural resources for future generations.“ • Research and documentation, exhibition, education and handicraft development
  26. 26. Splendour and Sacrifice “Taoism in Northern Laos” (cont’d) • Research and documentation: – Worked with community resource persons – Recorded ceremonies by video, photos and observation – Recorded object names, key words and phrases in minority language – Documented making of (ephemeral/impermanent) ritual materials and equipment on video, e.g. paper making – Contracted anthropologist
  27. 27. Splendour and Sacrifice “Taoism in Northern Laos” (cont’d) • Exhibition: – Emphasised ICH and TCH – video, recreation of a ritual, documentary („action‟) photos – Community resource persons came to install the exhibition, assist with labelling and display – Community recreated ephemeral materials for the ordination „scene‟, such as paper decorations and offerings to gods – Participated in the opening, including giving demonstrations of arts and crafts and talking to visitors
  28. 28. “Stitching Our Stories” • Community research project partnering with PhotoForward, a media-arts organisation from the US • Women and girls using photography, video, and research to document their cultures, women‟s roles, and modernisation
  29. 29. “Stitching Our Stories” • Have run two years of the project so far, 3 terms each: – Photography – Interviewing and video – Independent research • 20 young women total • Photos exhibited at Asia Society – Texas Center • 3 films shown at Luang Prabang Film Festival, Angkor Film Festival • In September 2014, will open a “community curated” exhibit at TAEC
  30. 30. Conclusion • TAEC has a relatively complex mission and activities, for a small organisation • Being private, financial viability is ever present concern • In a developing country – Human, knowledge, material resources are limited – Education and museum context lacking – Basic human development needs
  31. 31. Summary • Representing ethnic minority cultures, vital to be engaged with the communities themselves – Time-consuming and costly – Demands creativity and patience • TAEC has developed a multi-faceted approach – Informal relationship-building – Applied research – Handicrafts development and income generation – Moving into more cultural revitalisation • TAEC‟s relationships with its source communities are probably its strongest asset
  32. 32. THANK YOU