A journey at its end – The opening of Durga Puja exhibition

By Ida Vamio and Miina Savolainen

Last Tuesday evening our journey into the world of exhibition building culminated with the opening of the Durga Puja exhibition at the Finnish National Museum. The journey which started mere five weeks ago has been both exciting and eventful. Being in charge of creating the visual multimedia experience for the exhibition was at times nerve-wracking, but ultimately rewarding.

Professor Xenia Zeiler is thanking the students from the Museum Studies programme. Photo: Anna Wessman
The exhibition comes to life. Photo: Ida Vamio

Starting out, we had no previous experience of planning exhibitions or even of using video editing programs. Our task of researching the visual look of the Durga Puja, getting ahold of the materials and putting together the final multimedia shows was more time consuming than we originally anticipated, but it also taught us the importance of time management and communication. In the end, it all came together.

Kuva 1. Indian ambassador Vani Rao holding a speech. Photo: Anna Wessman

Everyone’s hard work was rewarded at the opening as we listened to insightful and lovely speeches from the people of the National Museum, and our teachers, thanking everyone involved for their contributions. We also had the luck of having the Ambassador of India herself to give a speech about Durga Puja traditions and the myth of Durga.

It was great seeing all the guests marveling at the different elements of the exhibition and enjoying themselves. We saw our work come to life, with the lights, objects, and texts perfectly in place and with the picture and video-shows looking just the way we hoped. It was a perfect ending to our journey.

Mingling among guests. Indian Ambassador Vani Rao, Researcher Suvi Sillanpää and Dr. Anna Wessman. Photo: Ida Vamio

None of it would have been possible if not for the amazing help and expertise of Anna Wessman, Xenia Zeiler, Pilvi Vainonen, Samu Hupli, and Carita Elko, without whom the process would have been impossible. Collaboration with an as influential museum as the National Museum has been truly educational and given us a taste of real museum work.

The experience has been extremely valuable and we can only hope that it will be offered to future students as well.





Decision-making as part of the Exhibition process

By: Thomas Ermala, Eeva-Maria Viskari & Rachel Fay-Leino

Exhibition objects on table, about to be put into the showcase. Photo: Thomas Ermala

Deciding where an object is displayed in an exhibition is actually a very difficult process when considering all the different factors. Does it reach the audience? Does it fit with the rest of the objects in the showcase? What about the exhibition texts? Deciding is an endless process of throwing ideas back and forth between people with different opinions of what is the most important about the exhibition.

Planned placing for the “Public” showcase. Photo: Thomas Ermala

As we are first-timers, this was a completely new experience for all of us working with the objects for the Durga Puja exhibition. Even though we’ve all worked in a museum before, we haven’t had this insight into exhibition planning, especially at a museum as large as the National Museum. The fact that everything we wanted to do had to go through someone else was a bit confusing, but in the end it also taught us a lot about how a museum this size actually works. It also gave us insights into all of the work that is done behind the scenes.

Exhibition being built. Photo: Eeva-Maria Viskari

The first challenge we encountered was the limited number of objects. When we started the project we were given a list of the objects that were already chosen to go on display. As this was the case the options we had were quite limited but ideas still started to pop up. In the end we chose to divide the object into “Public” and “Private” parts. One showcase would show us things that were associated with the public festival and the other would be dedicated to how it is celebrated at home.

Nearly completed exhibition. Photo: Thomas Ermala

Building the exhibition itself is just the last part of the project, it’s the culmination of all the work everybody has put into it. We were lucky to have a professional designer, Samu Hupli, guiding us through the project and providing invaluable help to us first-timers. Finally the last objects are put into place and the exhibition will be ready for the grand opening tomorrow.

Creating Durga Puja: An Exhibition and an Experience

By: Minna Turunen, Gwendolyne Roggeman and Clarice Bland

University courses tend to stay very theoretical. This is a sad fact that every student realises at some point during their educational process. With still some years to go before graduating and no view of the scholastic system changing significantly, most students can do nothing else than wait. But this year, we – eight students from the University of Helsinki – got the opportunity to put theory into practice and to finally learn something outside of our books and classrooms.

Empty display cabinets in the National Museum of Finland’s pop-up space. Photo: Clarice Bland

The Museum Content Planning course is a collaborative project between the National museum and university. It offers students the chance to learn things hands-on and meet actual people who have already found their place in the museum world. Writing museum panel texts, object labels, and writing blog posts are only part of the lessons learned during this course. Communication and time-managing skills are also essential when working with different people. From the student’s perspective these meetings are extra valuable. After all, we are all people who are aiming to get into museum careers. This project helped us to become familiar with the realities of working in a museum, what career possibilities we have in the future and most importantly what we need to do and study to accomplish our goals.

Durga puja altar donated by the Pujari Finland Association. Photo: Minna Turunen

On Monday 10th of September our adventure began. Our mentors, course organizer Dr. Anna Wessman and curator Pilvi Vainonen told us to get organised and to build a pop-up exhibition for the National Museum of Finland in only 5 weeks! After the practical announcements from our course leaders, Professor Xenia Zeiler gave us our first knowledge about the topic of the exhibition: the Indian Durga Puja festival.

We also got divided into small groups, each with our own responsibilities and tasks: a text group to write the information panels, an object group to decide the setup of the museum objects and a visual techniques group to enrich our exhibition with videos and images. And of course, this work also involved several members from the museum staff, because there were some tasks we simply didn’t have the knowledge to do.

Thomas Ermala, Gwendolyne Roggeman, Miina Savolainen, Ida Vamio, and Clarice Bland during our first visit to the museum. Photo: Minna Turunen

Our group prepared the texts for the objects that would be on display, as well as some background texts about the exhibit and the festival in general. One of the main problems that we encountered was the sheer amount of information about Hinduism, Durga Puja, and the festival itself – what should we include and what was irrelevant information? We also tried to keep it simple so that visitors who has no knowledge can come to the exhibition and not feel confused.

We began by looking at academic sources, but soon realised that the language was too complicated. We then looked at websites from the Hindu community which explained the festival and its importance in a much more down-to-earth manner. These websites, as well as the National Museum’s object catalogue and other texts, helped us to create a good array of texts. We also considered the sensitive aspects of creating a display about a religious festival.

Even though we had no knowledge of the Durga Puja tradition from the beginning we soon reached a point where the festival had no secrets anymore – and this only after weeks of intensive research and exhibition planning. You can probably imagine what a challenge this has been for both us, students, and the museum staff.

Follow this sign to Durga puja pop-up exhibition. Photo: Minna Turunen

After a few weeks of writing the texts, editing them, and re-reading them, we finally got to send them to Pilvi for a proofread. Everything was starting to come together! In the next post, more details will be revealed about creating an exhibition, as well as another perspective of this collaboration.

Durga Puja – pop-up exhibition at the National Museum of Finland 16. 10. 2018 – 28. 10. 2018
Free admission.

Museum studies goes into practice

In the upcoming Museum Content Planning course (KUMA-MU 512), starting this September, the students will plan and build a small temporary exhibition about the Indian Durga Puja festival for the National Museum.

The Durga Puja altar at the Helinä Rautavaara Museum. Photo: Anna Wessman

Durga Puja is an annual Hindu festival in the Indian subcontinent that reveres the goddess Durga. It is one of the greatest festival of the Bengali people and it is celebrated also here in Finland by the bengali community in mid-October. During this course a temporary exhibition will be planned and built by the students around this theme under the supervision of Dr. Anna Wessman and curator Pilvi Vainonen from the National Museum.

Ritual artefacts associated with Durga Puja worship at the Helinä Rautavaara Museum. Photo: Anna Wessman

The students will do actual museum planning and work in co-operation with the staff from the National Museum. Instead of a classic lecture series with a written exam or essay, students will do practical hands-on museum work, such as writing museum panel texts, object labels, writing blog posts of the process and engaging through social media, which will be evaluated by the teacher. Thus, the result of the course is a real museum exhibition, which is a very rare and exciting task for both students and the teachers. Because of this, the course will be limited to only eight persons and the students will work in smaller teams, all with specific duties.