MEG title
Copyright: ©MEG, J. Watts & M. Cuenoud

You’re invited to a party. On Saturday Nov. 2nd, the Musée d’Ethnographie de Genève (MEG) will be celebrating the five years since it reopened in its architecturally striking new building.

You’ll be able to go behind the scenes at this small, but world-class museum (winner of the the 2017 European Museum of the Year Award)

Admission is free. (There’ s never any charge to visit MEG’ s permanent exhibit. Admission to the current temporary exhibit, “The Storytelling Factory The Fairy Tale Factory,” costs CHF 9 with discounts for students, seniors, groups and others).

New building
Copyright: ©MEG, J. Watts & M. Cuenoud

A world of culture and history at your fingertips

MEG isn’t huge in floor space, yet it covers the world. The permanent exhibit on the ground floor is all in one room with dramatically lit display cases featuring traditional art and artifacts organized by five global regions: Asia, Europe, Africa, the Americas and Oceania. There’ s also a fascinating permanent ethnomusicology expo with instruments and audio recordings from around the world.

More than 1000 objects are on display in the permanent exhibit hall, these drawn from MEG’s collection of more than 70’000 items. Art and artifacts from some 100 civilizations include 15th-century Japanese samurai armor, a Hawaiian feather cape, Nigerian sculptures, a 6th-century Chinese bronze bowl., an 18th-century Swiss sled, a 19th-century Brazilian headdress, and so much more.

How to bring together such diverse offerings in a logical way (that doesn’t require you to trek several kilometers)? Simple geometry. The exhibit has a row of rectangular display cases for each of the five geographical areas. Walk down the row and you immerse yourself in the beautifully lit historical objects from that region of the world. Or take a 90-degree turn at any point and, in three steps, enter another region. Continue that way or whichever way your whim leads you to traverse the cultural world.

Copyright: ©MEG, J. Watts & M. Cuenoud

Folk music you can see and hear

The ethnomusicology exhibit at MEG shows you instruments including a 19th-century Japanese mouth organ, an early 20th-century Nepalese drum, a 19th-century ankle bell from the Ivory Coast, a 20th-century Swiss wood horn, a bronze gong from the Philippines, a 20th-century French rattle, and enough other instruments to supply an amazing orchestra of world music. Audio tracks are available through headphones attached before the displays. There’s also a “sound chamber” where visitors can hear recorded music.

The Fairy Tale Factory

Unlike the orderly permanent expo, the current temporary exhibit (running until Jan. 5th) is laid out along a labyrinth of curving passageways and cul-de-sacs that perfectly fit its topic “La Fabrique des Contes” (The Fairy Tale Factory).

You might feel like Little Red Riding Hood lost in the forest as you make your way between the displays of eight European folk tales, each one created in a “theater of imagination.” But getting a little lost is rarely so intriguing. The tales are told and explained through documents, manuscripts, illustrations, artifacts, art (including a warm and fuzzy Little Red Riding Hood’s cape) installations and film. As you wander and learn how these tales evolved through oral traditions, and how they reflect our deepest collective psyche, you’ll find new understanding of the power of storytelling.

Copyright: ©MEG, J. Watts & M. Cuenoud

Beyond the exhibitions

The museum mounts a steady stream of events. These include periodic concerts featuring musicians from far-flung regions. Coming up on Nov. 2 as part of the 5-year celebration, will be the Fanfare Olaïtan du Bénin.

MEG offers films, too. A series of fairytale films begins in November.

The museum also has an impressive library with books, videos and music that scholars and the rest of us can explore to learn about world cultures.

The virtual museum

MEG has a comprehensive virtual presence. The website, eMEG, in both French and English, is essentially an online tour of the museum, with the same wall texts and photos of all the artifacts, and even clickable audio. It’s about as complete an alternative to actually visiting the museum as you can imagine.

However, eMEG is definitely no substitute for experiencing the museum in person. The dark hall of the permanent exhibit, with its dramatic spotlights, imbues the artifacts with a life of their own, and the folktale paths of the current temporary exhibit make you feel like you’re part of the fables. Plus the concerts and films and workshops – and the café.

A visit to MEG is a passport to world culture.

Copyright: ©MEG, J. Watts & M. Cuenoud
Copyright: ©MEG, J. Watts & M. Cuenoud