The MuCEM is located at the entrance of the old port of Marseille, with the Saint- Jean Fort linked by a footbridge to the modern building created by Rudy Ricciotti on Pier J4. By its location alone, it is a grand project for the Mediterranean. Facing the open sea, it looks towards a horizon framed by the two shores of the Mediterranean. There has never been a museum anywhere in the world devoted to the cultures of the Mediterranean, although these provide such a fertile field from the point of view of both history and civilisation. This has now been remedied, with the MuCEM which will open its doors in 2013, at the time when Marseille will be the European Capital of Culture.
Realised in partnership with the State, the City of Marseille, the Conseil général des Bouches-du-Rhône (Bouches-du-Rhône Départmental Council) and the Conseil régional Provence-Alpes Côte d’Azur (Provence-Alpes Côte d’Azur Regional Council), the MuCEM represents the first real relocation of a national museum to a major regional capital. Nearly one million works and objects that make up the rich collec- tions of the MuCEM, inherited from the former Musée national des Arts et traditions populaires (MNATP – National Museum of Popular Arts and Traditions) and constantly added to since the Museum’s change of name in 2005, will be transferred lock, stock and barrel to Marseille.
The MuCEM is at the same time an extension and an altered version of the old MNATP, created in 1937 by Georges Henri Rivière. It is an extension through the collections, through wanting to display them in Marseille, offering a new opportunity to see them. It also extends the scope of the MNATP through the responsibilities which follow on from its status as a “major conservation department”, that is as a bench- mark institution for French social museums. But the decision to establish the MuCEM in Marseille, beside the Mediterranean, inevitably has consequences for the museum’s own identity and for its cultural work, to the point where it offers the opportunity for a real metamorphosis. This entailed the project being re-centred on the Mediterranean.
A fresh look at the cultures of the Mediterranean
The MuCEM is a 21st-century museum of civilisations, and will be principally concerned with exploring and comparing all aspects of the cultures of the Mediterranean, with Europe and the other continents that border the Mediterranean occupying a major place. There will be a major exhibition that will consolidate these aspects, with a two-fold aim: defining what civilisations of the Mediterranean basin have in common and what differentiates them by investigating their respective histories to understand them better, and helping pinpoint their specific qualities in comparison with the other great cradles of civilisation. This exhibition, covering 1,600m2, will be renewed every 3 years.
The MuCEM will, however, also address the problems of the modern world, through its cultural pro- gramming. Each year, the museum will present two large temporary exhibitions (covering 1,500m2) and two medium-sized exhibitions (covering 500m2) as well as symposia, debates, films, documentaries and shows that will cover the major questions in the news in the Mediterranean basin. The intention is to create a real cultural centre open to major debates, particularly:
> Questions of history, through the relationships of the Mediterranean world to the rest of Europe, especially the colonial heritage. Numerous aspects of history will come to light and mobilise groups or communities about the conflicts of the past that find deep resonance in the present...
> Questions of culture and belonging in the everyday world, related to the heritage of the past and the conventions of the present. So, for example, it could be dietary regimes, sometimes linked to religious practices; ways of living or dressing; the relationship between modesty and immodesty, and also the controversies about the veil or the burqa, and about the wearing of obvious religious symbols.
> Questions on artistic or intellectual subjects. The contemporary Mediterranean scene demonstrates the vitality of these societies. Digital tools and artistic creations hold no secrets for the younger genera- tions in touch with the world, as it is shown by the new protagonists in the “Arab Spring” in Tunis, Cairo, Beirut or Casablanca. The world of images, static or animated, the new writings, plastic arts, music and literature, will all closely involve a museum of civilisations that is in tune with the contemporary world.
The Mediterranean is regaining a central place in the international arena. It is on the political agenda and is emerging as one of the places where world history is being written. Civil societies and cultural protagonists are on the move, and so the MuCEM must step forward as one of the communicators with these new protagonists, a place to welcome these emerging cultural conventions and these assertive works, a place open to history, making it accessible, open to cultures on an everyday basis, presenting them better in order to know them better and so to understand each other better.
It is through these initiatives that the MuCEM can assert itself as a major cultural project for the Mediterranean.
Diane JUNQUA / firstname.lastname@example.org
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