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National Museums of Scotland visit Mozambique with ICOM UK – British Council Travel Grant

Dr Sarah Worden, Senior Curator African Collections at National Museums Scotland travelled to Mozambique in November 2018 with an ICOM UK – British Council Travel Grant. This is the report from Sarah’s visit.

The purpose of the visit to Maputo, capital city of Mozambique, was to meet colleagues from Eduardo Mondlane University (EDU), the Fisheries Museum and the Fortress Museum with whom National Museums Scotland (NMS) has been in email correspondence for three months to discuss further the development of a co-created proposal for a project funding application to the AHRC/ Global Challenge Research Fund project Rising from the Depths: Utilising Marine Cultural Heritage in East Africa (RftD).   Our project proposal is for a community marine heritage project which focuses on the role of the capulana, a cotton cloth used as an expression of individual and community identity by women based in a coastal location.

A week of meetings was co-ordinated in advance of my arrival by Professor Solange Macame, East African based co-investigator of the RftD Network.  EDU graduate students Osvaldo Marrame and Enio Tembe started the week with a guided visit to the recently opened Museum of Archaeology run by the Department of Archaeology and Anthropology (DAA) in the faculty of Arts at EDU.  This was followed by an introductory meeting with a number of faculty members with interests in the development of further international research initiatives at EDU.  These included Head of the DAA, Professor Hilario Madiquida and Director of Archaeology, Professor Solange Macamo.  Visiting Professor Paul Sinclair also joined the meeting with a number of DAA students.  Further activities throughout the week included meetings and guided tours with the Director of the Coin Museum and Curator of the Fortress Museum.  A full day programmed at the Fisheries Museum with the Director, Curator and Education Officer provided an opportunity to discuss current projects being carried out with Ministry support to map the fishing traditions of the country by region.  A follow up project meeting at EDU at the end of the week was well attended by ten students and four staff from the history department and DAA.

The success of the visit was in large part due to the preparation in Maputo which provided a framework for dialogue around the project proposal, enabling me to use time effectively to discuss with key stakeholders and gather valuable advice and comment which will inform the project application.  It was also an opportunity to share my experience within the UK museum sector, and to engage with professionals in Mozambique to collaborate in creative and sustainable outcomes for the project.  My visit had been anticipated with enthusiasm, I was greeted with warmth and interest, and meetings were productive.  The student meeting was particularly inspiring as they shared with me their interests and ideas to consider in the development of the project.  Despite my lack of Portuguese, I was able to communicate with non-English speakers via translation thanks in particular to Enio and Osvaldo who ensured all went smoothly, working closely with me after arrival to ensure all needs were met.

The visit was my first to Mozambique and has provided a valuable opportunity to introduce National Museums Scotland (NMS) to Museum and University staff in Maputo which will be of benefit to the development of our international partnerships strategy, broadening cultural awareness and the potential of collaborative research.  As senior curator of the African collections, which include objects from Mozambique, it was fruitful to establish curatorial relationships and knowledge exchange networks.  EMU has a desire to develop research partnerships in the cultural heritage sector and the visit was a great opportunity to meet, make new contacts, and discuss ways of identifying projects for mutual benefit. 

Staff at the Fisheries Museum

Preparation is key to any international collaboration to use the limited time of a visit effectively.  International working highlights both differences and similarities in approaches and aims, from social to political, in funding strategies and the organisation and role of the museum in local contexts.  It is important to appreciate different working styles and that international working will require flexibility, and the management of expectations and pre-conceived ideas.  The impact of working in a different environment, climate and cultural norms should not be underestimated.  Whilst a timetable provides a necessary framework, take opportunities which present themselves and be open to the bonus of unplanned events and performances.  For example, through a new contact made during the week I had invitations to attend the opening of an art exhibition, a live music night and to visit a local artists workshop which provided real insights into current arts in Maputo.

Outcomes of the visit will be shared and progress discussed with Dr John Giblin, Keeper of World Cultures and project co-investigator at NMS, and with NMS Director of Collections, to highlight the value of such international visits to share ideas and learn from museum professionals in Africa, and more broadly, of the inspiring experience of cultural exchange.  The immediate focus of follow up from the visit will be the preparation of a project funding proposal for submission to the RftD project, deadline to be announced at the end of November 2018.  This will require keeping in close touch with colleagues in Maputo. 

Student Meeting at Eduardo Mondlane University

During my visit I acquired four examples of capulana cloths, printed with Mozambican national and political designs, which are of particular research interest and add to the growing NMS African textile collection.  I have also agreed with the curator of the Fisheries Museum to share information on our Mozambican collection and advise him on objects in their collection as part of our ongoing knowledge exchange. 

Through the visit, NMS and the museums and university in Maputo have made new and exciting personal and professional connections providing a foundation for future research and knowledge exchange.  Through the visit I have gained further experience in my communication skills and new insights into the role of material culture in Mozambique, providing new ways of thinking about research, contemporary collecting and display.

‘Sarah’s visit to Maputo lays the ground work for future collaborations between National Museums Scotland and museums and universities in Mozambique. Emails and phone conversations are a good starting point but for co-designed projects nothing is more important than being able to meet your partners face-to-face and to learn about their institutions by seeing them first-hand. The valuable learning by sharing that Sarah and our colleagues in Maputo have done during this visit will make for a much richer and mutually beneficial collaboration than would have otherwise been possible.’   

Dr John Giblin, Keeper of World Cultures, National Museums Scotland 

ICOM UK