In celebration of the 130th anniversary of Sarawak Museum, the Sarawak Museum Department held a two-day virtual conference from Aug 2-3, 2021.
Sarawak Museum, officially opened by Rajah Charles Brooke on Aug 4, 1891, has come a long way since. Today, the Sarawak Museum has expanded beyond the original building, all the way towards Borneo Cultures Museum located right across via the pedestrian bridge connecting both museums.
The way forward for Sarawak Museum
Themed “The Future of Museums: Recover and Reimagine”, this virtual conference served as a crucial collaborative medium for the Sarawak Museum Department to rethink changes needed on the museum’s way forward.
Director of Sarawak Museum Department Tazudin Mohtar expressed in the conference that the museum was ever-ready to “rethink museum spaces and create new platforms” as a way to adapt to the new normal and ensure the museum’s future stronghold as a knowledge hub for Sarawak culture and heritage.
Bringing different perspectives together
Besides its celebratory reason, the conference was also aimed at bringing together different perspectives of museum practitioners across multi-disciplines from Malaysia, the Philippines and the United Kingdom.
The broad amount of museology resources shared by talented speakers in this conference can help Sarawak Museum Department steer into the new directions and learn the strategies needed to help them achieve SMD Strategic Plan 2021-2025.
The many roles of museums
SMD conference 2021 touched on many interesting topics. All of them shed some light onto the role of a museum as a heritage and cultural enlightenment institution and beyond.
Dr. Jennifer R. Morris, a Museum Historian from the UK shared in her ‘A Living Centre: The Sarawak Museum and its Communities in Historical Perspective’ session that the Sarawak Museum was planned by Rajah Charles Brooke to also become a recreation area, not just a place of research from the very beginning of its establishment. She pointed out that records stated the museum garden was especially famous during festivals like regatta.
According to former director of Sarawak Museum, Dr. Ipoi Datan, the museums in Sarawak also have their role as educational centres besides being centres of heritage preservation. In the past, pre-pandemic time, the museum department was heavily active in its community engagement and outreach programmes like Sejiwa Senada Roadshow and Irau Aco Lun Bawang festivals. “These road shows are an eye opener for those who have no experience of going to the museum previously,” he said in his Museum Educational Opportunities and Obligations: Conventional and Online Prospects session.
One way forward for museums is to reimagine and rethink narratives by looking into alternative history such as oral histories told by the local community. This was shared by Dr. Valerie Mashman in her “Peace-Making Revisited: A Sarawak Shield in Rome” session. According to her, the communities and museum need to work hand-in-hand in understanding and recover alternative understanding of a traditional material with great historical value.
Heritage Preservation Through Ordinances
Sarawak Museum Department Deputy Director Dayang Morzanah binti Awang Haddy also shared on the new, Sarawak Heritage Ordinance 2019, who she herself was very much involved in establishing this ordinance.
Under this ordinance, Sarawak’s intangible and tangible heritage will be protected and preserved for the many coming futures.
She also mentioned that those who would want to excavate historical objects or detect antiquities, permission from Sarawak Museum Department is required beforehand, together with an excavating licence.
The Making of Borneo Cultures Museum
The conference also discloses the on-going updates of the much-anticipated Borneo Cultures Museum. According to Museum Curator Yasmin K. Nicholls, the museum is currently undergoing some fabrication and installation works on site.
“If all goes well, we’ll plan to open at the end of the year,” she said.
According to her, the public can expect an immersive experience with individual unique storyline from each levels. Each section of the levels will also cater to different tastes of visitors, from all walks of life.