International Museum Day 2020: Where does the term museum come from; a look at some interesting museums from around the world
Museums, the ultimate storehouses of knowledge, have a long history of being associated with highfalutin culture and intellectual snobbery. Most of us instantly link the word “museum” with a place you visit only on educational excursions from school and soon after let it pass as a once-in-a-lifetime type memory, locked in a treasure chest somewhere.
Early museums began as the private collections belonging to wealthy individuals or families that often contained rare artefacts or artworks that would then be displayed to the public in what may be termed as ‘wonder’ rooms in their homes. One of the oldest-known museums is Ennigaldi-Nanna’s museum, built by Princess Ennigaldi at the end of the Neo-Babylonian Empire, dating back to circa 530 BCE. This museum contained artefacts from earlier Mesopotamian civilizations.
The English term “museum” originates from the Ancient Greek Μουσεῖον (Mouseion), which stands for a place or temple dedicated to the Muses (the patron divinities in Greek mythology of the arts; colloquially meaning the inspiration behind a work of art). The purpose of modern museums is to collect, preserve, and display objects of artistic, cultural, or scientific significance to educate the public.
Even though the idea of museums conjure up a mental image of centuries-old items decorating stuffy galleries, of people maintaining peace probably unbeknownst to them outside the boundaries of the museum building and repeating to yourself that any room you enter might remind you of being the bull in the China shop that everyone must be wary of. However, not all museums are meant to be the vintage-looking, monuments of history and heritage that you can barely ever enjoy at in your real element. A parallel school of thought has always believed that learning is always better with fun in tow. From exhibits celebrating some of our all-time favourite food items, pets, sex, UFOs, dolls and even toilets, there’s something for everyone if you set out to look at the right places.
Some of the ideas behind these seemingly odd or mundane objects from daily life also expose the limitless creativity of the human mind. If this was a multiple-choice based questionnaire with 4 or more options available to you, the answer to nearly every type of museum would be: Hey, there’s a museum for that!
If you’re travelling within India, you can explore a doll museum in Himachal Pradesh’s Dharamshala called Losel Doll Museum which boasts of the world’s largest collection of Losel Dolls. Down south, head to the INS Kurusura Submarine Museum in Visakhapatnam, a fish-shaped black submarine, also the first-of-its-kind in Asia.
The Arna Jharna in the blue city, Jodhpur, celebrates the local communities near Jodhpur. Arna Jharna is a tribute to late Komal Kothari, one of India’s leading folklorists and oral historians who was awarded the Padma Bhushan in 2004. This museum also showcases over 160 handmade brooms from different parts of Rajasthan.
Around the world, a curious traveller and art and heritage enthusiast can also head to the Vent Haven Ventriloquist Museum, Mummy Museum, Plastinarium, various dogs and cat museums (The American Kennel Club and a cat museum in Japan, a dog collar museum in England, to name a few), Houses of Goa Museum - one dedicated to the heritage homes built during the Portuguese reign in Goa which speaks of the state’s rich history and heritage, some now preserved through painstaking efforts, and also Kimchi Museum, dedicated to the humble Kimchi in Oriental cuisine.
Read on to know about more interesting museums around the world, divided category-wise, even though it’s definitely possible for one person to have their interests piqued by all categories:
Museum for the literature-lover:
* Roald Dahl Museum: One of the greatest storytellers for children (and adults) of the 20th century, his short stories rank among the world’s best and have the capacity to warm a cold heart. The Roald Dahl museum offers visitors a glimpse into the man and method behind some of the best-loved stories of the 20th century, including ‘Charlie and the Chocolate Factory’, ‘Matilda’, ‘The BFG’ and ‘James and the Giant Peach’.
* Shakespeare’s Birthplace: A restored 16th-century half-timbered house in Stratford-upon-Avon, Warwickshire, England, where it is believed that William Shakespeare was born in 1564 and spent his childhood years. This popular visitor attraction has been referred to as “a mecca for all lovers of literature”.
* Franz Kafka Museum: This dark, immersive gallery displays Franz Kafka’s personal belongings, such as journal entries and photographs, set in “Kafkaesque” settings, giving a glimpse into the brilliant author’s mind. Don’t miss the famous pissing statue in the front courtyard of the museum.
* Museum A.P Chekhov “Melikhovo”: Melikhovo is an ancient village located near Moscow which is closely connected with famous writer Anton Chekhov. The years between 1892-1899 are considered the most successful years of his life and work which is preserved in this museum.
For the Art-lover:
There is no dearth of a wonderland for the art-lover. From the iconic British Museum to Metropolitan Museum of Modern Art (MoMA), Getty Museum, Met Museum and many more, there’s an abundance of history and heritage waiting to be consumed at these centuries-old traditions of preserving human history, so to speak. But did you know there also exists a Museum of Bad Art? The Museum of Bad Art located in Massachusetts, USA aims “to celebrate the labour of artists whose work would be displayed and appreciated in no other forum”. You know how they say, no talent is ever wasted!
For the Food-lover:
From a museum dedicated to Food and Drink (the museum of food and drink), to the legendary Big Mac to their permanent accompaniment, fries, there are museums dedicated to coffee, tea, chocolate, ice cream, cup noodles and so much more! Read on:
The Big Mac Museum: Celebrating its glorious history since circa 1967 and its birthplace, literally, in the Pittsburgh area, the Big Mac Museum has a Big Mac history wall, vintage McDonald’s packages, wrappers, toys, and kids meals, all for the nostalgia effect.
The Frietmuseum: Frietmuseum in Bruges is the only museum dedicated to potato fries. From the history of potatoes, to where the fry came from and the secret recipe of a portion of tasty fries, the museum holds answers to every potato fry-related question.
Museum of Bread Culture: Located in Ulm, Germany, this museum was founded by two entrepreneurs who worked in the bakery industry before opening their exhibition in 1960. Visitors can look out for fascinating displays of baking tools, admire bread-related art and learn about bread’s importance as a food item.
The Museu De La Xocolata: The Chocolate Museum is located in a historic building with a pre-existing relationship with chocolate. According to the official site, “in the eighteenth century the Bourbon army was a big fan of this product, and according to ordinances, chocolate was present in the menus of the military academies of that century: “For breakfast of each cadet and company officer will be given an ounce and a half of chocolate with a quart of bread ...”, and when the troops were garrisoned in the barracks it was also usually taken chocolate. The body of halberds, the personal guard of the monarch, was called, with envy, “the chocolateros”, since to the being a pampered and elite body, it took much chocolate.” A visit to the chocolate museum consists of a tour of the origins of chocolate, its arrival in Europe, and more.
Momofuku Ando Instant Ramen Museum: The cup noodles museum or Momofuku Ando Instant Ramen Museum delivers a message to the visitors on the importance of inventiveness and discovery by introducing the history of instant noodles, which is a food culture in its own right. In 1958, Momofuku Ando invented the world’s first instant noodles, the “Chicken Ramen,” after year of research using common tools in a shed he had built in his backyard.
Ice cream Museum: Let your imagination run wild in a world (of ice creams) where anything is possible. Here you’ll find imaginative, multi-sensory installations that bring delightful dreams like: Taste exclusive scoops at our new Perfectly Pink Ice Cream Parlor, play dress-up in fashionista Diva-Nilla’s closet, reflect in the Infinity Mirror Room, and of course, make a splash in our iconic Sprinkle Pool - to life.
Avni, a working mom and media professional from Mumbai visited the Ice Cream Museum last winter. She shares her experience saying, “It’s an amazing space that can be enjoyed by both adults & kids alike. Each room is uniquely designed, with little activities or ice cream tastings along the way. There are also plenty of photo opportunities to keep as family memorabilia. The most fun for us was learning an easy choreography and dancing to it to get more ice cream! As a family of three it was our first performance!”
Museum of Pizza: The Museum of Pizza is dedicated to all things cheese and sauce, but there’s more to it than meets the tongue, literally. Located on Brooklyn’s William Vale hotel, the museum is an expansive, one-floor space that houses a wide variety of art, from giant photographs to sculptures to large installations that engulf visitors. An instantly recognizable attribute of the space is the bright colours that are weaved throughout the exhibits - perfect for taking social media-ready pictures.
Fashion and beauty enthusiasts:
“Fashions fade, style is eternal.” — Yves Saint Laurent
From a museum dedicated to Christian Dior’s work to the Museum of Fine Arts and Lace (Musée des Beaux-Arts et de la Dentelle), located in France; to Victoria and Albert Museum, London where one can everything from Indian textiles, obscure musical instruments, and painful footwear; to Toronto’s Bata Shoe Museum, which traces the cultural history of footwear; to fashion historian Doris Langley Moore’s personal collection of men’s and women’s clothes at the Fashion Museum, in Bath (erstwhile Costume Museum) and many more museums dedicated to the history and legacy of fashion, every fashion and design aficionado is in for a treat at these knowledge banks of style and trends.
Makeup Museum: Due to open its doors to the public soon, The Makeup Museum celebrates makeup and its glorious history. The museum began its first exhibition online on Instagram “Pink Jungle: 1950s Makeup in America” by unveiling exclusive interviews and other vignettes including a skincare prescription by Erno Laszlo for actor Marilyn Monroe.
From the kohl-lined eyes of Egyptian Pharoahs, to the rich imagery found in the royal, Indian figurative art, and further to the beginnings of the modern beauty industry - the history of makeup will soon take on the shape of a whole museum.
The Moda Goa Museum & Research Centre: India’s first costume history museum will be housed in a 450-year-old traditional Goan villa named the Casa Dona Maria in Colvale, Goa. Documenting Goan costumes and costumes from Konkan coast, design and lifestyle through the generations, the Moda Goa Museum preserves indigenous cultural heritage through a collection of 800+ artefacts from the 7th century AD till present date. The items of historical and cultural relevance include statues, objects, furniture, photographs, jewellery & accessories.
In a conversation with Mr Jerome Marrel, we sought more information about India’s first costume history museum due to open in December 2020. He says,”There will be a lot to learn about the history of Goa and by extension the Konkan coast from Gujarat to Kerala. However it will be a research centre for scholars and students with access to a large library as well as the collection itself of more than 840 artefacts. Access for students and their teachers will be free of charge as Moda Goa Foundation is a charitable trust.”
We also wanted to know if there will be special focus on designer Wendell Rodricks’ efforts towards conserving textiles and reviving the lost treasures? Mr Marrel throws light on these details saying, “Gallery 7 is the only Pan India exhibition with all the sarees of India, various types of Khadi and projections on textiles of the country. Gallery 13 will display the revival of the Kunbi saree by Wendell.” The museum consists of a total of 15 galleries, with a library coming up in Phase 2 of the Moda Goa Museum.
Love and other adventures:
The Museum of Broken Relationships: The brainchild of two star-crossed Croatian lovers, Olinka Vištica and Dražen Grubišić, The Museum of Broken Relationships in Croatia, contains everyday objects donated by anonymous people. The museum exhibits over 4,000 objects including an axe used to chop up an ex-boyfriend’s furniture; a letter written by a 13-year-old boy fleeing Sarajevo; and a jar of “love incense,” with a label reading: “doesn’t work.”
The objects range from comic to dark, are probably mundane but their stories are windows giving a peek into the souls of strangers.
Icelandic Phallological Museum: The Icelandic Phallological Museum is a one-of-its-kind museum in the world that contains a collection of phallic specimens belonging to various types of mammals found in a single country. Phallology is an ancient science which, until recently, received little attention in Iceland, except in history, art, psychology, literature and other artistic fields like music and ballet.
Museum of Sex: The Museum of Sex opened with the intent of preserving the history, evolution, and cultural significance of human sexuality. New York Magazine has described a visit to the museum akin to “a Willy Wonka sex dream,” where you can treat your inner kid-adult to the outlandish Bouncy Castle of Breasts or admire vintage erotic photography. The museum hosts both temporary exhibitions and a permanent collection of over 15,000 artifacts, works of art, photography, costumes, and historical memorabilia.