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Trips Around One World

For the first time in a century, the permanent exhibition of the GRASSI Museum of Ethnography invites visitors to a tour across the cultures of all continents. Displays include clothing, weapons, jewellery and many other accessories that evoke the experience of initial European contacts with cultures abroad.

The exhibits in the Southeast Asia section not only show the differences and relationships between selected cultures and ethnic groups, but also the aesthetic sensibilities and artistic skills of each. Moreover, they tell of cultural contacts and the relationships between religious thought and its symbolic reflection in daily life. The use of specific kinds of jewellery, weapons, and dress reveal the bond these have with specific religious and social functions.

The South Asia section focuses on Sri Lanka and the Indian subcontinent, as well as the cultures of the indigenous peoples of these regions. In the part of the exhibition dedicated to the island culture of Sri Lanka, special attention is given to the Kolam theatre and its multitude of deities and demons. In addition to an extensive collection of craftworks, a highlight of the Indian cultural area is a genuine village complex built by craftsmen from Kutch, located in the western state of Gujarat.

The section on Mongolians and Tibetans introduces a cultural area that starts in the southern slopes of the Himalayans and its foothills. Two common features of the region are the Tibetan-Mongolian Buddhism and nomadic pastoralism. In this section of the exhibition you will find the Herrmann-Freiherr-Speck-von-Sternburg Room where precious Buddhist relics are displayed.

The East Asia section of China and Japan reflects and questions our common misconception of this region. Braids, chopsticks, porcelain crafts, samurai weapons, models of bound feet, and traditional medicines are featured, and a special exhibit addresses the intricacies of the Chinese language.

The greater Northeast Asia section consists of Siberia, Korea, North Japan, and Northeast China. A shared feature of this region's peoples is shamanism. Part of the exhibition, the Ainu Collection, is one of the biggest of its kind in Europe. It includes more than 700 objects. A Kurile-Ainu feather dress is unique attraction. It is one of a worldwide existing total of nine.

The part Central Asia and the Middle East, under the motto "Cultures in Dialogue", depicts the every-day life and cooperation of various ethnic and religious affiliations in the region. It emphasises the interaction between the nomadic and the resident population in Central Asia. One finds bazaars and an Uzbek teahouse. The diversity of popular beliefs in the Middle East is broached with the example of amulets and talismans. Another visitor attraction is a genuine Bedouin tent from North Africa.

In 2004, the museum received a collection of the foundation Collection Dr. Bir on permanent loan. This collection of oriental jewellery contains 3,000 pieces and is the largest private collection ever conferred to the museum. A part of these precious trinkets are presented in a special cabinet exhibition, though many pieces have been included in relevant parts of the permanent exhibition.

For a long time, East and South Africa were regarded by Europeans as a secret El Dorado. The "Empire of Priest King John" and "King Solomon's Mines" have often been associated with this region. In the stone buildings of Zimbabwe and the once flourishing trade centres of the East Coast, visitors can trace these legends. In the exhibition one will encounter bushmen and nomadic herdsmen such as the Zulu, Massai, and Herero. It covers also the live of peasants, their everyday culture, and their spiritual heritage. Most impressive is the collection of numerous masks of the East African Makonde.

The America section conveys the diversity of not only native cultures. It also depicts African-American cultures of the South by holding the focus on religion and integration. Beautiful feather works from the Amazon region and an extensive ceramic exhibition from the Andes are shown. Exemplified with the ethnic group of Tarahumara from Mexico, the exhibition captures the transition from traditional into strongly modern way of life. The exhibition "North America" features the cultures of the Great Plains. A genuine walk-in tipi in its centre serves as an event hall.

The section Australia and Oceania demonstrates both the diversity of traditional indigenous cultures with regard to their living area and their problems and perspectives in our time. One can literally feel Australia: a hands-on wall and a sandbox haptically bring alive the typical forms of Australian landscapes and habitats. Most important everyday appliances like boomerang, tomb cane, and collection bowl can be taken into hands. The Oceania section shows many objects never been shown before. Here, Fiji acts as the exemplary link between Melanesia and Polynesia. The Fiji collection is regarded as one of the oldest of its kind.

Photo: Ingrid Hänse
Photo: Ingrid Hänse
Photo: Ingrid Hänse
Photo: Ingrid Hänse
Photo: Ingrid Hänse
Photo: Ingrid Hänse