Exhibition at the National Museum of Anthropology
Atelier Mulemba - Angola
This exhibition design project, housed in the western wing of the National Museum of Anthropology, was commissioned as part of the National Festival of Culture 2014. The selection of pieces from the Museum’s collection sought to represent the various ethno-linguistic groups in Angola, emphasising commonalities within the diversity that exists. The scope of the project involved the partial recuperation of the western wing of the building, and the design of the exhibition (including the interior architecture, new display structures, equipment and lighting, photographic documentation of the pieces, and graphic design of supporting material accompanying the exhibition). The Museum is located in Coqueiros, Luanda, a small quarter of soberado houses in the historic centre. The building itself an important site of social memory, and is an interesting reflection of the changing social and political dynamics in Luanda: a 17thC house originally probably built with slave labour, (typical of the buildings of this era) it has been an aristocratic residence; housed the colonial era diamond company DIAMANG and now houses the National Museum of Anthropology. Interventions into the existing built fabric were minimal, focussed on stripping away previous additions and retaining original materials and textures. The new elements that make up the exhibition are read as “insertions” within this historic shell. The driving idea behind the design of the exhibition was to bridge the gap between conservation and innovation, between the old and the new – to create a dynamism that challenges the notion that it is only that which existed in the past or is ‘dead’ that ends up in a museum. The design symbolically draws on the ‘traditional’ in order to inspire the creation of the contemporary and desirable, to posit these objects and the culture and traditions that they embody as part of (and inspiration for) vibrant, living and evolving cultures. Archival photographs were integrated into the exhibition structures, employed in a didactic manner to bring the pieces on display to life – pieces which are still found in use when travelling throughout the countryside today. Graphic motifs were selected from various pieces and abstracted to create the graphic language of the exhibition, which each thematic grouping of pieces being signalled by the use of these different patterns, both in the space and in the graphical support material such as the exhibition catalogue. Philosophically and aesthetically, the project proposes that there are ways to be modern without negating the past or the present, acknowledging that the culture(s) that exist in a place such as Angola do not need to be extinguished in order to become contemporary. The project was conceived, developed and implemented within a very short timeframe, negating the possibility of importing required elements (so often the seemingly easiest option). Instead, these were designed and manufactured/produced locally with limited material available, requiring the quick production of prototypes, revision of the design and implementation of the exhibition structures on a record timeframe, using detailing and materials new to both the design and manufacturing team.