ICOM Kyoto 2019: A Springboard to a New Role Pt. 1 (Rema Zeynalova, ITP 2018, Azerbaijan)

Written by Rema Zeynalova, Chief Specialist, Azerbaijan National Carpet Museum (ITP 2018, Azerbaijan)

Every three years, ICOM’s General Conference gathers the international museum community around a theme chosen by the museum professionals. The General Conference is based on scientific discussions with ICOM’s International Committees, on administrative sessions during which the General Assembly and the Advisory Committee set up the guidelines of the organization, and finally, on forums based on the international museum-related events. This year’s theme was Museums as Cultural Hubs: The Future of Tradition.

Thanks to ICOM-ICME (International Committee for Museums and Collections of Ethnography) for its generous fellowship, I was one of the six awarded fellows getting the opportunity to attend the 25th ICOM General Conference, which was held in Kyoto, Japan from 1-7 September 2019.

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ICME Fellows, from left: Rema, Jaanika, Camille, Ali, Blank and Jiyea

To learn more about Japan, I arrived a few days before the conference, and I started my trip by exploring Tokyo. I found Tokyo as the cleanest and busiest city I have ever travelled to. It is an amazing city that has a charm of both old and new. Modern buildings surround ancient shrines. My other observation was that the Japanese people are amicable. Several times when I needed directions, the persons whom I asked walked several blocks out of their way to show me where to go. From ordering food at restaurants to travelling around the city, there were always friendly Japanese people who would kindly help me.

Being curious about Japan’s capsule hotels and with a desire to experience something different, I decided to stay at one of them.
It was cheaper and more comfortable than I imagined and of course, fun.

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My capsule hotel experience in Tokyo

One of the reasons for my trip to Tokyo was to see MORI Building DIGITAL ART MUSEUM: teamLAB Borderless, the world’s first digital art museum. Words cannot describe how cool this place is. It was a surreal journey through light and sound, shadow and light, which interplay to form a dream-like theatre of abstract forms using familiar shapes.

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View from exhibition at MORI Building DIGITAL ART MUSEUM: teamLAB Borderless

My next destination in Tokyo was the Tokyo National Museum. It is one of the largest museums I have ever seen. At least five buildings with excellent exhibitions from Japan, China and Asia. The museum houses about 116,000 pieces, including Japanese armour, swords, delicate pottery, kimonos, calligraphy, paintings, Buddhist-themed statues, and a bunch of masks. Most of the interesting artifacts on display were masks of gods, demons, and a bunch of Noh masks that convey a whole range of emotions. Resentment, spite, and jealousy, all have unique, ugly demon-like faces. One of the interesting exhibitions I have seen there was about conservation. The exhibition featured varieties of conservation used at the museum. The types of materials, tools and techniques applied during the conservation were respectively displayed.

Tokyo National Museum

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the Tokyo National Museum

On 1 September 2019, a day before the opening ceremony of the 25th ICOM General Conference, we had an exciting pre-conference tour to Nara organized by ICME 2019 Conference Team (special thanks to Keiko Kuroiwa). During the trip, we visited the Nara Palace Site Historical Park, which is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and was the site of the Imperial capital in Nara from 710 to 784 AD. Nara, the ancient capital of Japan, is full of historic temples and shrines. One of the impressive temples we visited in Nara was Kofukuji Temple. This temple, with its breathtaking five-storey pagoda, is known for the second largest wooden pagoda in Japan. For me, one major appeal was the fact that those temples and shrines in Nara are home to friendly deers who love to be fed with rice crackers by tourists. According to Japanese legend, deer are the messengers of the gods, and they are, therefore, regarded sacred. Overall, the trip to Nara was impressive, and it was like a study trip, where we had a chance to explore and discover the local heritage.

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Sacred deer of Nara 

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ICME members in front of Kofukuji Temple in Nara 

The opening ceremony of the 25th ICOM General Conference was held at the Kyoto International Conference Center on 2 September. Over 4500 participants from 120 countries attended and participated in the conference, which brought together museum professionals from around the world to share their experience and ideas. The ceremony was opened by Suay Aksoy, President of ICOM, which also was attended by Crown Prince Akishino and Crown Princess Kiko, Ministers, MPs and the Mayor of Kyoto.

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Opening Addressby Suay Aksoy, President of ICOM

A Japanese architect, Kengo Kuma, and a Brazilian documentary photographer Sebastião Salgado, as well as a Chinese contemporary artist Cai Guo-Qiang, gave keynote speeches titled The Age of the Forest, A Brazilian Amazon Forest Initiative, and My Museum Years. I was particularly impressed by Sebastião Salgado’s speech. His speech was more than a presentation. It was a call to develop new and creative forms of protection and sustainable management of the Amazon region.