Taking Care

RESEARCH PROJECT | Ethnographic and World Cultures Museums as Spaces of Care


Alarming environmental shifts and crises have raised public awareness of and anxieties regarding the future of the planet. While planetary in cause and scale, the negative effects of this global crisis are unequally distributed, affecting most intensely some of those whose positions are already most fragile, including those whose lives continue to be affected by the legacies of colonialism and empire, with advanced avatars of neoliberalism only further accentuating the precarity of the lives of those who are already the most disenfranchised. Some scholars have argued that these anxieties should be taken as connected with another prominent set of apprehensions around the ‘announced’ failure of the plural democracies that have become commonplace in many countries across the world.

Possible Solutions and Strategies to Overcome the Global Crisis?

The project TAKING CARE - Ethnographic and World Cultures Museums as Spaces of Care began on 1 October 2019 and places ethnographic and world cultures museums at the centre of the search for possible strategies to address these issues. TAKING CARE is a large-scale European cooperation project led by the Weltmuseum Wien, scheduled to run for four years, it brings together fourteen partner organisations and is co-financed by the Creative Europe programme of the European Union, which has contributed two million euro. The project is framed around the notion of care, caring, and the power relations assumed by those who ‘care for’ another person. We are interested in the knowledges that our collections have, ancestral and contemporary, which might afford us, as curators based in the Global North, to better render ourselves humble as we witness the nefarious effects of an Enlightenment-based legacy, whose intentions were perhaps ‘good’, but whose knowledges about caring for our planet and each other increasingly reveal pretention and violence. We hope to think critically alongside the objects that our museums contain, with partners around the world,  and notably whose heritage is intimately linked to the provenance of our objects about planetary pasts and about sustainable, convivial futures. Our claim is that world culture museums based in the Global North should no longer be conceived primarily as repositories of Global Southern heritage to be preserved. They are places of encounter and practice, of social experimentations and innovation, of knowledges and skills, where diverse ways of knowing and being in and with the world, and narratives of diversity can be (re)discovered, co-created and publicly shared. Within Europe, such caring/careful (full-of-care) spaces are needed more than ever.

Participatory and Artistic Research

The project is organised around a set of interlinked themes, along a scale that starts from the museum as a site for care, opening towards thinking about the caring for the planet and its future, then on questions related to the unequal sharing of heritage resources and restitution. These themes will be explored in a shared programme of workshops, artist-based research, creative residencies and exhibitions, small-scale lab meetings, and collaborative publications, working through a range of participatory models, from small-group, hands-on sessions to wider public events.

taking care

Partner organisations

Weltmuseum Wien/KHM-Museumsverband, Vienna (AT) – coordinator
Statens museer för världskultur, Gothenburg, Stockholm (SE)
Mucem – Musée des civilisations de l’Europe et de la Méditerranée, Marseille (FR)
Nationalmuseet, Copenhagen (DK)
Linden-Museum Stuttgart (DE)
Slovenski etnografski muzej, Ljubljana (SI)
Museu Etnològic i de Cultures del Món/Institut de Cultura de Barcelona (ES)
MARKK – Museum am Rothenbaum. Kulturen und Künste der Welt, Hamburg (DE)
Pitt Rivers Museum Oxford – University of Oxford (UK)
Musée royal de l'Afrique centrale, Tervuren (BE)
Stichting Nationaal Museum van Wereldculturen, Leiden, Amsterdam, Berg en Dal (NL)
Museum for Archaeology and Anthropology – University of Cambridge (UK)
Museo delle Civiltà – Museo Preistorico Etnografico «Luigi Pigorini», Rome (IT)
Culture Lab, Tervuren (BE)


Image: Maarten Vanden Eynde, Plastic Reef, 2008-2013. Courtesy of the artist. 
Taking Care is co-funded by the European Union’s Creative Europe programme
feather cloak

Bird-feather cloaks as repositories of ecological and gendered knowledge

In this object analysis Dr. Ashley Coutu, describes a Polynesian cloak of Feathers and its relation to endangerment, and ecological and gendered knowledge.

The pot that should not exist

In this object analysis Niall Martin describes a Quechan pottery canteen and considers how the pot might act as an invitation, or a provocation, to think more generally about the stories that can be told about practices of care both within and beyond the institution of the ethnographic museum.