Museum of Impermanence 

Stories from Nepal, Papua New Guinea, and Tibet

Nothing lasts forever. In our lives, we experience the decay and loss of precious possessions and we witness the disappearance of cherished ways of life. We also suffer from illness, aging, and death. This is what we call impermanence: the knowledge that everything inevitably changes. As humans, we often feel this as a loss and we try to find ways to keep impermanence at bay. We hold on to things by repairing and preserving them and we maintain our traditions, or even reinvent them. And we spend much effort and money to extend our lives.  

Museums are institutions that specialize in the preservation of objects and audio-visual materials that are deemed valuable. By keeping things that otherwise would have vanished or will disappear in the future, museums respond to impermanence by attempting to secure a source of knowledge for future use. 

In this exhibition, we mix old and new collections to show how different people - in Nepal, Papua New Guinea, and Tibet – deal with impermanence. Some try to counter impermanence through repetitive rituals, the employment of long-lasting materials, and the reuse of traditional forms of expression. Others believe that impermanence is unavoidable and should be valued as a positive thing in life. Buddhist monks make a sand mandala and take it apart again, and young people from Tibet to Papua New Guinea embrace life by creatively mixing old and new into new forms of expression.  

This exhibition is based on the work of three contemporary anthropologists, working at Moesgaard Museum and Aarhus University: Ulrik Høj Johnsen, Ton Otto, and Cameron David Warner. They have studied previous ethnographic collections made by Werner Jacobsen (1914-1979), Alfred Bühler (1900-1981), and Prince Peter of Greece and Denmark (1908-1980). Based on their findings they collected new ethnographic artefacts and co-designed museum exhibitions in Nepal, Papua New Guinea, and India with local collaborators. 

This exhibition is based on the research project Precious Relics based at Aarhus University and Moesgaard Museum and funded by the Independent Research Fund Denmark, Humanities.