Wesam Mohamed (ITP 2015) In the Land of the Minotaur!

Written by Wesam Mohamed, Museum & Heritage Specialist, Bibliotheca Alexandrina (ITP 2015, Egypt)

In late September, I arrived on the island of Crete, Greece to participate in the annual conference of the ICOM International Committee for Documentation (CIDOC). It was my second time to be supported by CIDOC, after my participation in Tbilisi in 2017. This year’s theme discussed new insights into the ‘Provenance of Knowledge’. It aimed to support museums by helping deepen our communal knowledge and understanding of documentation as a means of knowledge preservation, dissemination and exchange.

Personally, I consider CIDOC conferences among the best in the museum field. Every time, they provide new knowledge using a variety of methods and they smartly raise important questions that might open the way to new learning, techniques or attentiveness. It was also great to meet Tanya Szrajber from the British Museum, whom I hadn’t seen since the ITP summer programme in 2015! It was such a nice surprise to meet again and to have time to discuss the daily proceedings of the conference, as well as what’s happening in Egypt and at the BM.

This year I participated as speaker in the panel discussion: ‘Re-contextualising museum collections and objects to their origin‘, with Dr. Martin Doerr, Research Director at ICS-FORTH, Dr. Sorin Hermon, Associate Professor at The Cyprus Institute and Lina Nagel, Ministerio de las Culturas, Artes y Patrimonio, Chile. Our special session was chaired by Dr. Franco Niccolucci from PIN-University Center City of Prato, Italy. We discussed the disconnection of object information influenced by the lack of collecting policies, illicit traffic, repeated movement of objects and other practices. The discussion included examples from Egypt, Chile and Cyprus and soon we will start to put together outlines on how to support museum professionals and researchers to re-contextualise their collections.

My second talk: ‘Provenance of Knowledge and Ownership of the Past: My Heritage vs Your Heritage‘, reflected on how much the documentation of the provenance of knowledge can affect our appreciation of cultural heritage. It presented an audience-based study around ideas of identity, ownership and value, relating to the provenance of knowledge and how it sometimes shapes people’s understanding of their ‘own’ heritage and the heritage of ‘others’. Two weeks after CIDOC, a colleague of mine was attending the ICME annual conference in Estonia, and it gave me pleasure to learn that my presentation at CIDOC 2018 was highlighted during an ICME panel discussion.

One of the remarkable talks of the CIDOC 2018 conference was given by Cristiana Serejo, Deputy Director of Brazil’s National Museum, who gave a description of the disaster that happened this September and the museum’s plans for recovery. On the last day of the conference there was a session for posters which was very rich in its diversity and content.

I was eager to see the remains of the Minoan civilisation since it was part of my studies during my Diploma in History of Art. Once arrived, I recalled all the memories of studying Minoan mythology: the Labyrinth, the Minotaur etc. Even the rooms of the conference centre were named after the Minoan kings and queens. We had an excursion to the archaeological site of Knossos where we could see the remains of the palace of King Minos. The site is located at the top of the mountain which provided a marvelous view for visitors. Although most of the buildings collapsed after the volcanic explosions that somehow ended the Minoan civilisation, the remains still recount the richness of the Minoan culture. The influences of ancient Egypt were very clear through the artistic style and the use of Egyptian blue.

We also had visits to the Historical Museum of Crete and the Archaeological Museum of Heraklion, which hosts some of the most important collections in Crete. It also included some Egyptian vessels as products of trade activities between Egypt and Crete. The most remarkable objects in the museum were the two Minoan Snake goddess figurines.

We also visited the Foundation for Research and Technology (FORTH) where we could recognise multiple options for the use of new technologies in the interpretation of museum collections.

It was another great CIDOC, full of rich discussions, new knowledge, international dialogue and a lot of fun!

Until the next one,