The World is your Oyster (Nguyen Hai Ninh, Vietnam, ITP 2023)

Written by Nguyen Hai Ninh, Head of Museum Management and Information Documentation Bureau, Department of Cultural Heritage, Ministry of Culture, Sports, and Tourism (Vietnam, ITP 2023)

This is my 2nd visit to London and I’m Ninh, who is delighted to be warmly greeted by the city’s refreshingly cool summer days, with temperatures remaining below 20 degrees Celsius. This is a stark contrast to my hometown of Hanoi, Vietnam, a tropical city accustomed to scorching summers ranging from 35 to 40 degrees Celsius. The prospect of attending the ITP 2023 fills me with excitement as I eagerly anticipate the valuable knowledge and experiences shared by the BM’s curators and ITP fellows. As the Head of the Museum Management and Information Documentation Bureau within the Department of Cultural Heritage, which falls under Vietnam’s Ministry of Culture, Sports, and Tourism, I believe these insights will greatly benefit my work and contribute to the preservation and promotion of our cultural heritage.

Photograph of red roses in Regents Park

It has been 4 weeks since I arrived in the UK, filled with days of work brimming with new knowledge and information about English museum studies, and an experience that any museum person eagerly anticipates: visiting exhibitions after public hours with the exhibition curator! Occasionally, a few thoughts cross my mind, wondering if I will participate in a “night at the museum” or “back to the future” movie!? No, these are artifacts with a very British way of storytelling by BM curators.

In the third week of the ITP 2023, I moved to Manchester, where the museums are cozy and nestled amidst nature. It’s impossible to fully describe the emotions experienced while exploring the exhibits and listening to the mysterious stories told in the museums I visited in London and Manchester.

Sculpture of the Goddess Sekhmet on display at the British Museum.

A painting named ‘The Desert’ which is exhibited in the Family Experience Room at the Manchester Art Gallery was explained to us by Ronan Brindley, Head of Learning & Engagement, and provoked many thoughts for me. The internal discussions and critical inquiries between the gallery staff about whether to display real paintings in the interactive space for 1–2-year-old children, as well as the arguments advocating for respecting authentic experiences with real artworks, will greatly influence my work in Vietnam. The debates between cultural heritage preservation and community service may never end, but practices like those at Manchester Art Gallery will immensely help us in our thinking process to address new museum challenges.

Sharing with me the enthusiasm for exploring the behind-the-scenes of the British Museum on this programme, are 17 other fellows, all with a common interest – visiting museums. Whenever we have free time or right after our scheduled activities for the day, questions like “which museum should we visit now?” are always exchanged among the group. As well as this, the discussions outside of the official ITP schedule become even more exciting due to the diverse backgrounds of the ITP participants, ranging from curators like Yulei, Malissa, Rucha, Elif, and Mina to archaeologists like Ali, Aymen, and conservators like Oge, as well as museum managers like Kayla, Elizabeth and Twana.

The Desert on display at Manchester Art Gallery. Painted by Edwin Henry Landseer (1802-1873) in 1849.

One more interesting thing is that I met Gao Rui, a young researcher working in the Foreign Affairs Department of the Palace Museum in Beijing, China. We shared information about the activities at the Palace Museum, a place I have previously had the opportunity to visit. What’s even more special is that we both share a passion for jogging, and we have had a few jogging sessions together at Regent’s Park – a beautiful park adorned with roses, a lake, and swans.

The ITP has created lasting memories for me, and I will cherish them forever!