Conceptualising Intanigble Heritage in the Tropenmuseum, Amsterdam: The Layla and Majnun story as a case study
The Tropenmuseum in Amsterdam, in the Netherlands, was founded as a colonial museum in the 19th century in which experts ('outsiders') presented their view of other cultures. In the 20th century the Netherlands became a multicultural society. As a result, the museum had to redefine its function in society. In an attempt to rethink the relation between the content of its exhibitions and its audience, the Tropenmuseum refurbished all the museum galleries between 1990 and 2008. During the refurbishment the museum started to experiment with intangible heritage for which the story of Layla and Majnun was chosen as a case study. The museum collected four separate contemporary cultural expressions of the story, accompanied by audiovisual recordings of performances. The experiment was so succesful that it functioned as a catalyst for the final refurbished gallery, entitled Travelling Tales, which is entirely devoted to intangible heritage. Based on research into the Layla and Majnun collection, I argue that the voices and views of the artists mirror the manifold perspectives that people have to various forms of intangible and tangible culture. The presentation of this multitude of views in the exhibition reflects the complexity of identification processes and therefore goes beyond notions of 'self' and 'other'. In this respect, the Tropenmuseum functions as a forum where various opinions meet and as a space for intercultural encounters.