At the GRASSI Museum für Völkerkunde in Leipzig, colourful clothing, figurines, vessels, weapons, jewellery and other accessories show visitors what life and art are like in diverse parts of the world. Arranged by continents and regions, the museum offers a journey from Asia and Mongolia to Tibet, to Africa and on to America, Oceania and Australia.
For the permanent exhibition, a master builder from Niutao erected what is likely one of the last traditional houses of its kind. An Indian family built a bunga house as an example of climate-neutral building. Next to them are a Mongolian yurt and a Siberian balagan, which call to mind global questions about climate change, sea-level rise, ecological imbalances as well as economic integration and dependencies. Individual objects – for example the wooden kareau figures used by people on the Central Nicobar Islands as protection from negative influences and ill-disposed spirits – reflect the everyday reality of people in different regions. Contemporary artworks and objects tell of continuity and the search for identities.
The uniqueness of many of the objects goes hand in hand with the necessary questions regarding their origin. Who created them and why? Which material was used in their making? And how did they come to Leipzig? Were these objects given as gifts, sold or even taken from their original owners during the colonial era?
The ethnologist Nanette Jacomijn Snoep has been at the helm of the three ethnographical museums in Leipzig, Dresden and Herrnhut since 2014. Her goal is a step-by-step modernization of the permanent exhibition at the GRASSI, which opened in 2009, as well as the inclusion of more contemporary objects.
Also, globally relevant subjects such as migration, youth culture and body modification may help build bridges between Saxony and other world regions, whereby the corresponding objects may serve to compare universally human experiences and emotions. To this end, the museum is cooperating with artists, refugees and students at the Universität Leipzig. Together, they are developing presentations that are exhibited as interventions in the permanent exhibition. In addition to exhibitions, extensive accompanying programmes, readings, performances and discussion forums further emphasize the mandate of the museum as an intercultural place of dialogue rooted in the here and now.