Interacting with the collections

Guidelines and Application Procedures

General Principles

Terms followed by an * are defined in the following section.

  • The Musée d’ethnographie de Genève (hereafter MEG) would like to offer the opportunity to interact with its collections, through exchanges with objects considered alive or through the reactivation* of functions or powers held by them. These guidelines are aimed at groups of interest and members of source communities of the collections under consideration, as well as artists or performers involved in intercultural creative processes.

  • The MEG takes into consideration approaches supported by representatives of source communities regarding the living status of objects or ensembles of objects, and the claims of populations or individuals who may profit culturally or spiritually from such objects or ensembles of objects.

  • The MEG recognizes that some populations consider that objects intrinsically hold a power of action over individuals and societies, and wishes to be able to give it back to them by facilitating exchanges likely to empower them with the means to exercise it.

  • Aware that a reciprocal power can be exercised over the object in the context of an interaction* with it, and considering that the object is dependent on the intentions that are brought to it, the MEG wishes to accompany such interactions in the perspective that, without compromising the material state of the object, the gestures of touching and activating its functions constitute factors of care* towards it.


  • By interaction, the present document considers any reciprocal action of an individual or group of individuals and an object.
  • By reactivation, the present document considers the awakening and the restitution of a power of action to an object, through an exchange involving gestures between an individual or a group of individuals and the object, and which can have reciprocal consequences on their physical and spiritual well-being.
  • The term care is used in this document to mean an active approach towards the object, respectful of its rights, freedom and integrity, in a balanced and non-dominant relationship. It is opposed to physical and moral abuse, to the use of restraints and to all forms of passive neglect that may be exercised over the object.

General Guidelines

  • Every interaction with an object will be accompanied by a member of the MEG's Collections Unit. Information exchanged about the history, significance and use of the objects, as well as concerns and remarks about their use, display and storage will be recorded in writing.
  • Interaction with objects will be subject to recommendations to ensure that it does not contravene the principle of care.
  • The guidelines apply to the entire project resulting from the request, i.e. the moment of reactivation of an object by an individual or group of individuals, but also the gestures applied to the object before and after the interaction, and any public communications related to it.
  • Audio-visual documentation is allowed for research or non-commercial use only, unless otherwise agreed.



Some objects may contain traces of biocides applied in the past to protect materials from insect infestation. Gloves are provided for consultation and it is recommended to wash hands before and after handling.

Technical Issues

  • Availability of all requested objects cannot be guaranteed. Some objects may already be involved in research or restoration projects, or on loan to another institution. Some objects may be fragile, posing an undue risk if handled or if a mechanical function is activated.
  • The selection of objects will have to be refined prior to the completion of the project, so that only the objects involved in the project are made available. The reactivation of an object will be subject to an analysis of its state before validation, and may be subject to specific modalities.
  • In case of material risks due to the fragility of the object, an analysis of the benefits and risks of its reactivation will be carried out, and submitted to a collegial decision. If the request for reactivation is validated, the decision and its arguments will be recorded in the museum database.
  • The project will not compromise the integrity of the object through the use of intermediary tools that may generate traces that are not compatible with a use that respects its values.
  • Moving an object outside the MEG will be avoided if the project can be carried out on site. In the case of an imperative move to an external site for the needs of the project, the conditions of transport, use and storage of the object will be subject to prior approval. The environment in which the object will be used will respect the conditions allowing its material stability.
  • Adjustments or modifications to the structure of an object will only be made with the approval of the MEG.

Ethical Issues

  • Consideration will be given to any project that is of such a nature, and conducted in such a way, as to foster the trust of the source communities and the communities of use of the objects concerned.
  • The access to an object will correspond to a request generated by a compelling need to benefit from an exchange with it because of its heritage, cultural, historical, or sacred value. If an interaction with an object is requested with the main aim to use it as an accessory mostly intended to produce an effect, a sound, or to accompany a performance, it will be recommended to use an object of a similar nature outside of the collection.
  • The handling of an object will be done in a desire for respectful exchange with it and in accordance with the values attributed to it by its culture of origin.
  • If the intentions and handling related to the reactivation of an object do not correspond to the practices in which the object participated in its culture of origin, the request may be submitted for consultation to a representative of that culture or, in the absence of a representative, to an advisory committee designated by the MEG.
  • Within the framework of the project, only the person(s) who have obtained authorization will be able to interact and, in general, manipulate the object, according to the modalities previously defined with the MEG. The environment in which the object will be reactivated must not put it within reach of third parties who could manipulate it for the purpose of distraction or malice.
  • If an object represents a valuable testimony to the collection or to its community of origin, it should preferably be made available to a representative of that community, and in any case in accordance with the principle of free, prior and informed consent of the representatives of its culture of origin. The project may not involve the use of a sacred or secret object by a person who is not authorized to do so by the legitimate rights holders.

Application procedures

A request for interaction (PDF) with an object must be submitted at least 6 months before the expected date of the project, and directly to the person in charge of the relevant collections. An exception is possible if the interaction is part of an ongoing collaborative project. It will be accompanied by the following information:

  • A  brief description of the project involving interaction with one or more objects in the collection.
  • The approximate desired dates of the visit which will be discussed with the persons in charge.
  • A list of the objects requested for research and their MEG inventory number. The collection can be accessed online:
  • The affiliation of the visitors with a source community, if applicable.
  • Expertise and experience regarding the reactivation of the object(s), if applicable.

This document is subject to revision and amendment at any time.